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.
We pull out all the stops on Easter. So do you, I'll bet. We have the flowers, and the music, and the crowds. This year we had an incredible liturgical dancer who carried the paschal candle throughout the sanctuary. The Easter sermon was clear and dramatic and inspiring.
So the senior pastor and I decided not to chant the communion liturgy this year during Lent, thinking it would be simple and a bit austere—and that, like "Alleluia," we might miss it and long for its return. It's not a total fast, as we still chant the "Kyrie," although that's usually the choir, not me or the senior pastor.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. We had bookend services, one at 8:00 a.m. in the chapel, the other at 7:00 p.m. The services were essentially the same: readings, sermon, imposition of ashes, confession, communion. Just the essentials.
Recently I went home early, coming down with a cold, feeling low, sore throat, all those things. I'd been calling people for a community meeting, and a lot of people were not able to come, for a variety of good reasons. But you know what? It's discouraging, especially when you have a cold and are feeling sorry for yourself already.
I got a call recently to visit someone in the hospital. I didn't know her well, but I recognized her name, and when I got to the hospital, I remembered her husband. Two of her four daughters were there. They were not sure about their mother's prognosis, so we prayed to strength for whatever the future would bring.
The summer has brought some changes, big and small, to the congregation where I am a pastor. Of course, the big one is a new senior pastor. But there have been a few little ones, including some ways that our worship services have changed.
I've been reading the New Testament all this summer, reading a few chapters a day and writing about them. I decided to use a version of the Bible I hadn't read before (just to mix it up a little), so I chose the Common English Bible.
I don't know why, really, especially after something I heard last month. At the Stewardship Conference I attended, one of the speakers actually admonished us, "If you don't like pastoral care, you should find another line of work."
It was a hard time. I was not sure of a direction, and felt like my movement was blocked at every turn. I felt like I had made many mistakes, and was not sure yet if they were fatal mistakes. I wasn't sure if my gifts were valued, or even if my gifts were worth valuing.
Sunday night we heard there might be storms heading our way, so we decided to stay in South Dakota for an extra night and head out Monday morning instead. This was a decision that I regretted then on Sunday evening when it started hailing and everyone in the hotel was instructed to gather in the foyer.
It's the unforgivable sin, according to the gospel reading from Mark two Sundays ago.
I remember reading the gospel at the early service that day, out on the lawn, and when I got to this part, I saw one man near the front row raise his eyebrows. I'm not sure if he raised his eyebrows at the part about "blaspheming the Holy Spirit" or about "the unforgivable sin," or if it was a combination of the two. But my immediate thought was, "I should have preached about this. People are going to wonder about it."