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."
I went to the hospital the other day. For some reason, I like to have a prayer book with me when I go to the hospital, even though I rarely use it. It's not that I don't pray; I always pray. I just don't use the prayer book. But, it's sort of a security blanket for me. I got used to bringing it long ago, when I was in seminary.
I used to love to watch him and his wife, sitting in the front row at church every Sunday. He always took copious notes during the sermon. I learned that he called one of his daughters every Sunday night, and they compared notes about what they had heard on Sunday morning.
Recently I had a conversation with one of the young parents in my
congregation. We were having a far-reaching discussion that
included Sunday School, next summer's Vacation Bible School Program, and
the changing nature of our culture and church attendance. When I
offered the idea that "going to church" is not as culturally normal now
as it was when I was growing up, she replied, "That's right! I think we
are the only ones who go to church among all of our friends." She
continued that she knew that her friends had a wide variety of opinions
and emotions regarding faith, from some who clearly were not interested,
to others who were more ambivalent.
I blurted out, "So, you're sort of like missionaries to your friends."
I noticed a young family gone absent from worship. She is a gifted
musician and actress; they have two young children. She did a benefit
concert here once full of wonderful musical numbers; all the proceeds
went to cancer research. I had been somewhat connected with them and
eventually found her on Facebook, where I noticed that her religious
affiliation was "atheist."
It was after a funeral. I was sitting with a couple who were visiting
our congregation, but it turned out they had connections with my
husband's church, so we began to chat. And (here's where I get fuzzy) I
don't know how this came up or what I said exactly, but I must have
said something about "the historical view" or "the critical view" of the
Bible, and they both got this stricken, deer-in-the-headlights look.
Thursday morning, I drove over to a neighboring parish to participate in Lectio Divina for the first time.
I don't know why I haven't done it before. In the back of my mind, I
knew that the pastor hosted a Lectio group for a few years. And for at
least a few years, I've wanted to learn more about divine reading.
On Sunday, I went to church. I know, it's summer, and why would
you go to church in the summer? There's no Sunday school, and no choir,
and there are plenty of other things to do. At least, that seems to be
what several people think. But I am the pastor, and I was presiding,
so I went to church.
My husband, a musician, likes to talk about different ways people love
music. Most people love music of some sort or another, but they love it
mostly as consumers. In other words, they are listeners. They turn on
a radio, or pop in a CD or love sorting the tunes on their ipods by
genre, or creating a nice "mix" of music to listen to.