Advent, Call, Church Life, Ministry

Words of Assurance

On a frigid December 23rd, so cold my gas cap froze, I drove hours on Maine highways to a denominational meeting. Imagine scheduling a meeting for the 23rd! I was feeling pretty glum about my ministry in my first call; the small church I served had serious budget issues, and I felt like a failure. A much older pastor sat next to me and listened to my story at the lunch break. He offered a kind word; I wasn’t the only person responsible for the situation.

I hesitated to believe him.

I loved church, and I loved the church I served, but I started the drive home wondering whether I had misheard God’s call on my life. Did God really want me to be a pastor? Did I really want to be a pastor? And if that wasn’t who I was supposed to be, who was I?

Winter road leading into snow-covered trees with the following words: Did God really want me to be a pastor? Did I really want to be a pastor? And if that wasn't who I was supposed to be, who was I?

In this year – this second year – in which loss and frustration and disappointment have swirled together, many pastors have asked some version of these questions, and we are not the only people of faith wondering what God really wants for us and from us. Who are we supposed to be?

A recording by the choir at my home church was in the CD player that afternoon, a program of the music for Christmas Eve when I was still a seminarian and sang with them. As an organ piece ended, I heard the opening bars of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” I had loved processing with that large choir on Christmas Eve, experiencing the joy of being an alto who joined the sopranos for the descant on “Sing, choirs of angels.”

I began to sing with them. I couldn’t help myself.

We reached a verse sung a capella.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

In that question, I sang the answer to my questions. It didn’t balance the budget, but it consoled me, reminding who I was and whose I was. I could not trust it in the words of my colleague, but I could not deny it in the verse I had forgotten. Those words re-membered me; they put me back together.

May the coming days offer each of us such a numinous assurance. God who loves us is God-with-us.

Blue image with winter flowers and the following text: God who oves is is God-with-us.

(Choral nerds might like to know that it was the Willcocks’ Carols for Choirs arrangement.)

Church Life, Life in the Manse

The place where you are standing

Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” - Exodus 3:5 (NRSV)

Although the stay-at-home order in my county was lifted weeks ago, the church I attend continues to worship online. As a person with an autoimmune disease, a return to gatherings with anyone outside my family’s bubble will be as far off as the availability of a proven vaccine for Covid-19.

This feels hard for me, as it does for many, because I love going to worship. I have stood in church and felt the presence of God, and I have slipped off my shoes there because I knew we stood on holy ground. I have experienced the charge of the Spirit in a sanctuary full of singers, in the testimony of another, in shared confessions of sin, in vows of commitment, in stirring proclamation, in profound and potent silence.

Where is God still speaking to me? To us?

Of course, I know God speaks in places that are not church, and when I set aside my longing for what I cannot have right now, I think of Moses with his flock, drawn somehow beyond the wilderness to the mountain of God. The story doesn’t start at the burning bush. It starts with a God-given impulse to go farther than we might tend to go, to open ourselves up to go where God might be.

Where is God calling you today? Pay attention as you make your way. Be alert for the signs of Holy Presence. Turn aside and look. The place where you are standing may be holy ground.

O God of all that is good, draw us toward your ever-burning fire. Amen.

The view of the church from just outside our kitchen door.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Daily Devotional.