Today I came home from the Church Fair feeling pretty blue. Not periwinkle, or navy, or turquoise or teal but a nearly black midnight blue.
I gave myself a little time to wallow in it.
Then I got up to walk the dogs with Pure Luck. Daylight is slipping away here in City By the Sea. Each day seems dramatically shorter than the last. The warm sunshine was rapidly replaced by a chilling mist in the sky while I was wallowing, and I decided to wear a scarf.
Putting on the scarf, I began to cry. Perhaps the wallow wasn’t really over quite yet. I bought the scarf at the Fair today. It’s just a simple scarf, really, made from a variegated yarn of pastel shades that blend nicely with my lilac-shaded fleece vest. When Mrs. C brought it to church with her other knitting last night, she told me she thought it might look nice on me, mostly because it was short, but also I think because it matched that vest.
Mrs. C is a person who sometimes keeps me awake at night. She has an uncanny knack for seeing the worst in a situation, but she is so faithful to Small Church, I forgive her for it. No one worked harder preparing knitted items for the fair this year. And for many years, she was just about the only one making anything.
I was pleased to buy the scarf today.
Why am I midnight blue? For some reason, the fair did not attract the traffic this year that it did last year. Maybe we needed balloons on our sign. Perhaps the trouble is that the newspaper listed us in Thursday’s weekend section, but not today. I don’t know. Right down the street, the St. Statue’s had a carnival, with yard sale items out on the lawn, and a moon bounce, and I don’t know what else. Right across the street, the college had a craft fair, and one block the other direction, another craft fair took place at the Catholic girls’ school. Somehow we were overlooked.
It’s hard to be a small church. One bad day can be a disaster. One small failure can crush morale. So much work goes into putting on a church fair; how do you measure success? I could see by the worried faces at the beginning of the day that everyone saw what I saw: it just wasn’t busy enough.
Small church life is precarious. One family can withdraw from activity and leave a hole you can’t quite figure out how to fill. One pillar can die or go into a nursing home, and you discover that building a pillar from the ground up takes a lifetime, not a season.
I spent some time sitting behind the knit table with Fair Chair, a great gal in her mid-thirties, mom of a couple of our Nursery School graduates and a pretty new member of the church. She crocheted a baby blanket for a shower tomorrow morning as we made a mental list of things to adjust for next year’s fair. I did it wondering where I would be next year. She worried about the fact that she was the only invitee to show up at last week’s Stewardship breakfast. We whispered about the possibility that they might have to go to part-time, that I might have to leave.
Today was the day that my own sense that it is time to go smacked into the reality that it is becoming their sense, too. Although I have known the truth for months, it’s only now I see the risk of waiting too long to do the paperwork for my ministerial profile. They may be ready to make a change before I am.
And if it’s the truth that they can’t afford me, rather than just a convenient cover for my feeling of being called elsewhere, isn’t it also true that I’ve failed them? After all, they called me hoping I would grow the church, that my ministry would inspire all the members they had and draw many new ones. The truth is that my ministry inspired some of the members right out the door. The truth is that the new members have made up the loss, but numerical growth has not been dramatic enough to make up the financial difference between income and budget. The truth is that savings have been spent down to cover my pension and my family’s health insurance, while I have learned how to be a pastor at their expense.
And the truth is, I love them. So planning to leave them feels like preparing for a death. At the lunch table, Candlemaker, who is my age, reminisced about her childhood crush on the then-pastor’s son. She wondered why her childhood pastor doesn’t ever come back to visit, and someone said, “When they leave, they are really supposed to LEAVE.” “They can’t even come back to visit?”
I’m feeling blue this afternoon, midnight blue, blue black. I wonder when the stars are coming out to break the darkness. Where does God want me? What are the best words to describe my understanding of ministry, and how do I write such a statement (for the profile) when I am feeling so sad? Who will want to hire someone who was not successful in the world’s terms? I wish I could tell you that last thing is not important to search committees, but I know it is, sadly.
Three years ago this week, I arrived at Small Church for my first day of work. Downstairs they were setting up for the fair. Upstairs I was trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do. Down at church this afternoon, they’re breaking down the fair. Here at home I am trying to figure out what in heaven’s name to do. We have come full circle.