Church Life, Knit Without Ceasing, Ministry of the Meantime

A thing of beauty


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I thought the announcements were over, and I was ready to move us on to the Introit, when a dear person stood up and said words kinder than I would dare to quote, and three women came forward and presented me with this stole.

Many hands made it, many clever and loving hands. 

(They included knitting!!!!) 

One of the sad things about doing interim ministry is saying goodbye so often. But one of the sweet things is that since you're leaving, people tell you, or show you, how they feel about you.

I have a month to go at Y1P, but since it's summer and some of the hands involved will be out of town, I go this gift in plenty of time to say thank you more than once.

Which I am already doing.

I hear it looked great in the pulpit!

Thank you, thank you, to all who took part in creating it. I will wear it with fond memories of my time among you.

Here's a close-up of a pair of flowers:

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Call, Church Life, Ministry of the Meantime

“a settled community of faith”

In the comments on my last post, Questing Parson drew attention to this phrase: "a settled community of faith."

I chose those words not uncarefully, but perhaps not carefully enough. 

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I've been pondering this cartoon ever since I saw it posted on Bob Fisher's blog, church.nu, last fall. In both the church I'm serving and in the planning for the Annual Meeting of our Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, I've been challenged to apply the principles I learned at the New Church Leadership Institute in 2008. My dream of planting a church with the support of the Conference stalled because of the bad economy–that's a hard thing, I'm still sad about it. Weighing my diagnosis with RA and the economy together, it makes rational sense for me to let it go, to trust that it will come about in its own time and place, that I don't have the 60-80 hours per week of energy that might be optimum for a church planter. And so forth.

Still sad about it.

So. Coming to that conclusion meant also having to start reconsidering what in the world God might be calling me to do in ministry. I went back and forth, making lists of things I love about doing Interim ministry and things I dearly miss about being a settled pastor.

Settled–there's that word my friend noted, probably wondering if a community of faith can or ought to be settled. He's a Methodist, therefore committed to itinerate when called to do so. But that is not our way. We have settled pastors and transitional or interim pastors, and when we accept a call to be a settled pastor, we stay put indefinitely. 

Perhaps it would have been better, more accurate, for me to say "a call to settled ministry." 

I didn't, though, because I didn't want to be locked into the idea that I was talking about simply a job, as in "my ministry," nor did I want to use the word "church," because that sounds too much like talking about a building. 

And so I wrote those words "a settled community of faith," and however inaccurate or provoking they may seem to some, they meant something to me in that moment.

I was thinking of how it felt to be unsettled in my family life, in the years after my separation, when I lived for a year knowing I must sell my house, and then another year in temporary quarters, and then finally settled here. 

There are so many kinds of settling: getting comfortable as we did in this house; giving up on getting more; becoming stale and ceasing to move or grow. It's the first of those three I'm seeking, because in settling here we became free to grow and change instead of reacting constantly to loss and transition. That's what I'm hoping for, not to grow stale or to give up and take less but to become part of something, to stretch and deepen myself, and to help make that possible for others. 

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call, Ministry of the Meantime, The Inner Landscape

Home

This morning Sam and I went walking outside our usual neighborhood and made our way to the street where I lived before my divorce. I wanted to diverge from our usual route in part to see whether last week's storm had damaged trees in the old neighborhood. Sam went along with me cheerfully, sniffing eagerly at message boards he doesn't usually get to read, so to speak. 

We walked past the yellow house where I lived from 1993 to 1997, from soon after my mother died until just before my father did. We circled that block and passed the park where my boys learned to ride their bikes. Then we walked toward the University and through the campus via an unfamiliar route, finally meeting up with the Law School side of the street, a landmark we walk past almost daily. 

Then, and only then, would Sam do his more serious "bidness." 

We might call it his home turf, his territory, his neighborhood, his comfort zone. I wonder if for Sam, as for me, it isn't that he feels better in his particle space?

I wrote about our neighborhood, our street and my sense of gestalt on my previous blog a few years ago. I made a case for this being our right place, and then at the end I pulled out the pavement beneath my feet, suggesting the inner world mattered more than the outer. I wrote the post at a time I was coming to realize I had to leave Small Church, as they were no longer going to be able to support a full-time pastor. I was trying to prepare myself for the possibility of leaving Esplanade Street, as I called it. 

Yesterday after church, Snowman and LP and I walked Sam together, and we talked about our trees, the way we would feel if our street didn't have this esplanade of maples. "It would just be any street," we agreed. We've lost a lot of trees in this neighborhood, many in the Patriot's Day storm of 2007, more this past week. The tree in front of our house, overspreading our yard, helps describe home to us.

As it turned out, we didn't have to move for me to have another job. What had to happen was for me to move, once, twice, now three times. And it's important to me today to remember how becoming settled here mattered so much to us. Would I keep changing jobs every year or so in order to walk on these sidewalks and check in on these trees? 

Do I have to trade one kind of stability for another?

Much as I have enjoyed my interim jobs, and I hope I've done them well, I wish I could have both a settled community of faith and my settled particle space at home. I've come to believe the two don't have to be in conflict, but I haven't seen yet where they might be in relationship. I hope that the way will become clearer, soon, that I will see my way home.