Installation, Ministry

A New Song

A Charge to First Parish Church on the Installation of a new Associate Pastor

It’s a joy to be with you today. I had the privilege of serving as Interim Associate Pastor here, sitting in the same office now occupied by your new Associate Pastor.  From the first time I spoke to her, serving as a reference for this congregation, I hoped that you would discern a call to be in ministry together.

Of course, I knew more about you than I knew about her when we had that conversation. I had been with you for almost a year. But some things we know on instinct. I knew I could be happy here with you the moment we began singing a hymn together. It was my first Sunday.  I was in the front pew with the Senior Pastor, and the organist played the introductory measures, and we stood up and the sound was marvelous and joyful, and I began to smile broadly. I loved the way we all sounded together.

And singing together seems like a good image for today, as I’ve been asked to charge the congregation here as K is officially installed as your Associate Pastor.  I’m thinking back to the last time I joined a church choir, how I didn’t know the routines –where to put my music when we finished with it, where the pencil sharpener was, and where to sign out for days I would miss. You may think that after several months in your midst, K already knows the things she needs to know. But I would encourage you to remember that she is still new, and that things you take for granted, things everybody knows, may well still come as a surprise to her. Tell her your stories, about the life of the church and your own lives. Practice hospitality with her, opening your hearts as you open your memories. Remember that what seems obvious may not be, especially when it comes to the traditions so established you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing.

(You’ve mentioned the Clam Festival, right?)

Next, I ask you to remember the things this new pastor in your midst will need to take care of herself.  Ministry requires both private preparation and public performance. Without the work that goes on unseen , the things you can hear and see will suffer. Respect her day off, her family time, her vacations and Continuing Education time. Encourage her to use her non-work time to do things that make her heart sing.

I’ve sung in enough musical groups to know that adding a new singer means the sound changes. We talked a lot during the interim about the complexity of change in a large church with a long history.  This is where listening is important. Listen to the new voice in your midst. Try to be aware of the places where some adjustment in your tone will lead to a more harmonious blend. K isn’t here to do ministry for you, but with you. For instance, you want the youth to love her and trust her, but you also want them to feel like a part of the whole church. That requires everyone’s participation.

One of the most exciting forms of music is counterpoint, when two melodies that contrast become one complementary piece of work. There is bound to come a time when pastor and congregation differ on how to do something or what comes next. Remember that disagreement is not disaster, and that complexity can be beautiful, too.

Remember, also, whose song you are singing. The music you are making is not K’s or the church’s. The song you are singing is God’s song. And since God is always calling us to new ways of being, you can almost rely on the fact that there will be new ways to sing the song. The words may be familiar, but set to what seems like a strange tune. Or the same old song may be enlivened by new ideas. God is still speaking, after all.

By God’s grace, I trust you will make beautiful music together.

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