Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call, Grief, Interim Ministry

Missing Piece


Sam Dogbook

Sam went to Youth Group with me tonight. We met with the Senior High kids and then checked in on the Junior Youth meeting, where half-a-dozen sixth grade girls raced across the room to pet him.

(He likes girls a lot.)

I had been away at our Annual Conference Meeting and got home only a short time before I needed to go to church. I missed him and didn't want to leave him, even though he had the company of Pure Luck's BFF all weekend. I'm grateful I could take him with me.

But I can't stop thinking how weird it is to be at a church where they've never known Molly.

"Our other Berner," I say, or "our first Berner." The first sounds too immediate, as if she might be waiting at home; the second sounds too distant,practically historic.

We've had a lot of transitions this year, loss and separation and disappointments and graduation and disconnection and one new entry after another for each of us at jobs and schools. In all the time I've known him, Pure Luck has never worked at so many different locations in one year. And I'm aware that moving from one church community to another, despite the interesting nature of the work (and the rather wonderful time I'm having at Y1P), creates additional strain on the family system. I wonder what's next, and it will need to be an active form of wonder fairly soon. I'll undergo another criminal background check, since they are only good for 18 months and I had my last almost two years ago. I'll need to update my ministerial profile.

On the old one, I listed ministry work with Molly as one of my interests. 

31 Raffaello-trionfo di galatea

When Pure Luck and I first knew each other, when we decided to see if we had more in common than the spark we both appreciated so much, we bought a jigsaw puzzle and put it together on my dining room table. No lightweights, we chose a 1000 piece puzzle for our experiment. I remember his long body leaning across the table, patiently piecing clouds while I focused on the swath of red cape, or the little lilac cloak. We worked on the puzzle for several weeks and our anticipation grew as we neared completion.

But in the end a piece had gone missing. Perhaps a cat walked across the table and knocked a piece aside with a paw. Perhaps a young child picked one up and carried it away. We did not know, and with disappointment, we put the pieces back in the box.

Some time later I found the missing piece when I lifted the corner of the oriental rug to vacuum. 

I find I'm looking back and wondering about my choices; it seems inevitable after a weekend with colleagues, seeing who has moved, or what pulpits have been filled, knowing some got where they are by the rules of our system, while others…well, let's just say a few pieces of the process may have gone missing. I look back and wonder if I made good choices, if I really understood where God was leading me. I look ahead and wonder where God will beckon and whether I will be able to finish the puzzle the right way, wonder if I ever have?

The painting is Raphael's Triumph of Galatea. As in so many mythological stories there is love between a human and a nymph, and there is a jealous monster, and there is a tragic death and in this case a river that holds the spirit of the dead lover. Galatea's triumph is not to defeat her enemies or to bring her love back to life but to transcend this plane of existence.

I fear I want my satisfaction, my completion, my meaning on this plane instead.

We still have the puzzle. I can't remember whether I put the missing piece in the box with the rest of them. It's been eight years, and that memory might as well be under the rug, too. Galatea still has her apotheosis, with or without it.

Interim Ministry, Ministry

No Such Thing as a Wrong Note

Yesterday I had a visit with a friend from college days, and we asked the sorts of questions you do when four years have gone by since the last meeting, about kids and work and pets and extended families. Her husband asked, "Don't you want your own church?"

I have to confess, that's one of the most frustrating questions to be asked, because the answers are "Yes" and "No" and "Maybe."

First, yes. There's a certain appeal to being in a settled call. You have the chance to start things and see them grow, to develop relationships of depth, to live through the cycle of the year and then another and then another, to build trust and be present. Those are all good things.

But second, no. Because the question suggests that there is something "less than" about doing Interim Ministry, and while I would welcome a settled call if that's to be, I don't see what I'm doing now as stop-gap, for me or for the churches I've served.

And third, maybe. When I consider my gifts for ministry and make a list of which suit me to settled ministry and which to transitional ministry, both lists look respectable. A career assessment tool would not answer this question.

Pete seeger "There's no such thing as a wrong note as long as you're singin'."
Pete Seeger said this at his 90th birthday celebration, showing on Public TV as I
write tonight.

Here's what he had them singing:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

I clearly can't see the answer to this question by myself.

And I am left wondering if maybe there's no such thing as a wrong ministry as long as I'm ministering.

Finally, Writing It, Interim Ministry, Writing

Back at It

It's that time. It's Saturday morning, and I'm preaching tomorrow morning, and since I've been on vacation this week, I've got a sermon to write.

I don't usually arrange it this way–I prefer to have vacation begin after preaching and include the following Sunday–but for a variety of reasons, this was the way it needed to be. It's just harder to get the motor started after a week of idling.

This is also the first day I am full time in the newer of my two jobs. I've left the Freeport UCC and said all my goodbyes and passed along the necessary information to the long-term supply pastor who will be with them through the end of the year, at least. Today I am fully in the employ of Y1P, as their Interim Associate Pastor.

I'm still working out exactly what that job means. Interim ministry is a funny hybrid of pastoring and consulting, and it seems this particular interim will be those things but in a much different ratio, with the emphasis on making sure certain programs continue apace and the consulting more of a condiment than the main course or even the side dish.

This also means I'll be preaching much less often, and I have to wonder what that means for this blog, which was titled in such a way to suggest I would be engaging the lectionary with regularity. I saw it as a way to deepen my reflections and sharpen my writing, but I also saw it aimed toward the weekly sermon. 

Now, I wouldn't dare ask what's the point of it if I'm not preaching, since there is plenty of point to engaging with scripture, for all kinds of reasons. But there is a sense of loss for me that there will be no end-product, or no need for one, most weeks. This month, while my colleague is on vacation, I'll preach a lot, but after this month, it's once a month for the duration of this job (at least until he figures out any other time he's taking off).

I can't decide whether this just makes me sad, which is silly since I knew going in it would be this way, or whether I ought to see this as an opening to do other things with my writing. I'd like to think there is some deeper purpose to this particular direction my ministry is taking, if only for a year, that there is something I will learn that I needed to know.

But for today, there is a sermon to write. I am back at it.