January 8, 2008

things i have learned in my first week as a minister

in no particular order:

1) no one notices if you skip the Lord's Prayer during communion - it was printed in the bulletin... it should have been in my script... but since I switched to a special Epiphany litany, the one with just the great thanksgiving and not the whole shebang, I totally missed it. But... no one seemed to notice, or at least no one said anything.

2) sometimes it's better to just let someone talk than try to respond - during one of my pastoral conversations with a parishoner they became passionately angry about evolution being taught in the schools and then quoted genesis 1. I couldn't figure out what to do next. Should I announce my theological differences? Should I point out that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 tell differing stories and so it's hard to take them both (or either) literally? Should I say something like "wow, you really seem angry about that... can you tell me why you feel that way?"... Since I couldn't figure out what to say, I just listened. intently listened. And preceeded to find out that this really kind and sweet old man (and he really was!) was so angry about evolution being taught that he swore he would go after anyone who tried to teach his kids about evolution with a shotgun! While this probably isn't true, I felt like if I had opened my mouth I would have been run out of town. I think our congregation is a really interesting mix of biblical literalists, fundamentalists (in the early 20th century understanding of the word), people who just want to understand what the text means, and others who could care less. And I desperately want to be honest and authentic about who I am and what I believe. But I'm glad that I just listened to him right then. He got the anger out of his system and we preceeded to discuss whether or not "Deal or No Deal" was gambling.

3) food will be provided at every gathering - YAY! food for bible study, food for youth group, food for sunday morning fellowship. I love being Methodist.

4) when i'm on the internet, no one can call the church office - an interesting consequence of previous pastors not keeping office hours is that the office doesn't get used much. So they have dial-up and one phone line. But now that I have set office hours (M-Th 9-12), someone is there! And while I'm there, I'm likely to do things like correspond by email to other district and conference pastors, work on my sermon and the bulletin using textweek.com, begin working on a church website... all of which means, no incoming calls. I started to wonder why the phone wasn't ringing. LUCKILY, no one desperately needed me and we figured this out before any damage has been done. (it's not like anyone is expecting to get someone at the church... they haven't for a while). I discussed upgrading to DSL so that we can talk and surf at the same time... it's in the works.

5) homebound members LOVE IT when the pastor visits - I have been fairly nervous about visiting people. I'm not the most outgoing person in the world and my only experience so far has been making cold calls in a hospital. But there is a huge difference when you are now someone's pastor and when they haven't been visited for a long time. A congregation member came with me to begin making visits and it was so good to meet all of these wonderful people! They have so many stories to tell, so much life that they have seen. Each circumstance is different. Some are retired farmers who have moved into town. Others have lived in Marengo their whole lives. Some moved to Iowa later in life. All that I visited were widowers, but some for as few as 9 months and others for 35 years. Each desperately missed their spouses. I think that a significant ministry that our church can offer is ministry to these people. Evidently the church used to tape services for them, which can be done again. And we definately need to start a communion ministry. Maybe we can get some funding from somewhere to invest in a church bus... for quite a few of these people they either can't drive or the weather keeps them away... all they need is a ride.

6) no matter how long they have been doing without, when the pastor arrives they are expected to lead - My first day in the office, before I even had set down my stuff, I was invited to join in the bible study happening in the next room. I accepted because I wanted to see what they were doing and introduce myself, etc. but EVERY TIME there was a pause or a question, I was supposed to have the answers. As the week has gone on, it hasn't been quite as bad, but there is an expectation/hope that I'll be the one who prays, who has the answer, that I'll come join all the civic groups and participate in each of their outside bible studies. I think the part that is difficult for me is that I really value and want to embody a communal ethic of church leadership... one in which power is shared and we are all ministers in the Body of Christ. They really want a pastor. They really want a shepherd. This doesn't mean that I want to shirk my responsibilities... it means that I want to help them fully claim theirs. And I think that it will take a little while before we get to that place. I have to admit, I'm tempted at times just to take things over and do them my way... but that's not how I feel that God has called me to lead, nor do I believe that it embodies the ministry of Christ. So... while it may be slow going... together we will learn how to be the church.

7) croutons of christ just aren't as full of grace as hawaiian sweet bread - This is for all of you Vanderbilt and West End people... I'm a big fan of intinction... the good old "rip and dip"... especially when you are feasting on a hunk of Hawaiian sweet bread. Yeah, I know Jesus was probably eating unleavened bread in the upper room, but a tender chunk of bread, with all of its texture and the smells... it just really conveys the fact that you are sharing part of a meal with one another. I grew fond of gathering at the table after the worship service was over to eat the communion "leftovers." Things just are not the same when you have cubed, crustless white bread (especially when you have no loaf to break and when you take the cloth off the plate bread cubes stick to it and go flying off the table) Note to self: have a meeting with the communion committee.

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