I have been a pastor at the same church for many years, long enough to get to know people, long enough that now I have in confirmation classes some of the children I baptized. Some of my friends are in their third or fourth or fifth call, and here I am, at the same church, still in my second call. There are times, I admit, that I feel a little like a failure.
I have known people for a long time. They have known me for a long time. I don't always know if this is a good thing.
One recent morning I got up early and put on my suit and my clerical collar. Even though it was a hot and muggy day, I was dressed up to go out to our city's National Cemetery for a graveside service for one of our congregation's World War II veterans.
First I had stopped into the office. I had time for a couple of brief thoughts about Sunday's sermon. "Discipleship," I wrote down on the cover of a manilla folder. Not much to go on, but better than nothing.
I've been thinking for some time now that I would like to learn a little Spanish. There are a number of Spanish-speaking immigrants in our community, and a Hispanic Seventh-day Adventist congregation meets in our sanctuary on Saturday morning. Some of the congregation members are fluent in English, but not all of them. It has piqued my language-learning curiosity.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got came shortly after one of the first worship services I led as a pastor. One of the parish members came up to me after worship one week and said, "You didn't leave enough room."
"What do you mean?" I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.
One Sunday at worship, a very small, wonderful thing happened. During the closing hymn (a rousing rendition of "How Firm a Foundation," by the way), we carried the cross and processed to the entry of the church, as always. The people turned to face the cross, as always (or at least as they have begun to do during this past year). We stood there, continuing to sing, as always.
And then, three little girls, about three or four years old, began to dance.
I don't know why you come to church on a particular Sunday, or why you don't. Sometimes you show up; sometimes you don't. When you don't, maybe it's because you are sick or out of town or your alarm clock didn't go off or you just can't bear to be in a room with those particular people on this particular day. Maybe you are caught between wanting your kids to experience God and a faith community, and the reality of what it's really like to be a part of a faith community.
Contrary to what you might have been told, Lent does not mean “40 days of beating yourself up.” It does not even mean “40 days of God beating you up and reminding you of what kind of a person you really are.”
Our local state fair advertises nearly everything on-a-stick, so why not Bible verses? The verse our ministry fair chose? Micah 6:8, of course. "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
The church where I grew up held their final worship service on Baptism of Our Lord Sunday. I have a copy of the bulletin from the service, even though I wasn't able to attend. The picture on the front of the bulletin is from the church's heyday, in the early 1970s. I keep looking at the picture, thinking about the past and where I am now.
In the past year or so, we have started using the term "faith formation" at my congregation. In the past, we talked about "Christian education," or we talked about "Sunday school" or "confirmation." Or maybe, "adult study." Words like that.
It happened again. A young family visited our congregation recently. They are looking for a church. They liked the worship service. They liked the kneelers (this is sort of unusual for a Lutheran church; we have had kneelers since the 1960s); they liked the sermon. But as they looked around, they made the observation, "There are an awful lot of gray heads out there."
Almost every Sunday after church, I stop at the grocery store. I don't want to cook after a busy Sunday morning, but we do have to eat, so I peruse the deli selection and bring something home. And I'm not necessarily proud to admit this, but a lot of the people who work at this particular grocery store know me now.
Sometimes, especially lately, someone will come up to me and sort of whisper to me, "You know, I'm not that liberal, but I really do think we need to do something about gun violence in this country. At least background checks. Or access to semi-automatic weapons." I don't know why. Perhaps it is because they sense that I am safe, in a certain way.