“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Luke 12:34
For the past 6 years I invested myself in people, in a place, and in a community. I made investments of time, talent and treasure in ways that engaged body, mind and spirit. And for 6 years I found my heart and my passion united to that biblical notion of God’s advancing rule (the Kingdom of God– that’s what a lot of us Christians call it). As parish pastor I found myself repeatedly being filled by the Spirit, that I might pour myself out to folks in the parish and in the surrounding neighborhood. Much of this was meaningful, rewarding work.
And yet there were also a few solid hammer blows to the heart in that time as well. There were significant deaths of good friends in the church. There were also significant battles over the direction and the focus of the church’s ministry. Throughout those years–even up to the very end, I found myself dealing with a pitched struggle between the “I want my Good Old Days Church” people and the “I want God’s Today-Church” folks. Both groups had a lot to do with calling me to be pastor there in 2004. On the one hand I spoke with leaders in the call process who shared their desire to innovate and build new bridges with the surrounding ethnic community. On the other hand, I looked at the pastor’s contract they sent me to sign and at the top of the “To Do” list was “Pastoral care for all church members.” It said nothing about building new bridges to the surrounding community in innovative ways. For better or worse–probably a little of both–I did my best to be the pastor for both groups. Though in truth, I found my heart mostly in those journeys I took in search of God’s heart and God’s desire. And those journeys almost always were along the paths of bridge-building and innovation. To be fair, I also found my heart in opening myself to those folks who often disagreed with me. I can remember a few kitchen table discussions with someone I could always count upon to try and shoot down most outreach attempts with our neighbors. We were sometimes at odds with one another in council meetings, and sometimes those meetings could get a bit heated. But I was blessed enough by grace to see that she, in her own way, was attempting to be a good and faithful servant of God’s church. Just as I was in my way. And so, despite our disagreements, we would have coffee together from time to time, sitting at her kitchen table, as she told stories of the old days and of her own life’s journey, which had been long and sometimes quite harsh. I grew quite fond of this cotton-topped, elderly lady whom I’d initially considered a formidable adversary. Now I can see why Jesus said, “Love your adversaries, do good things for those who bring you trouble,” for this also is where you can find your heart. It’s likely she can say the same thing from her perspective as well.
But back to those hammer blows. A long-standing relationship went sour. The consequences of taking a part-time call to an already dying church were kicking in some high-stakes emotional and economic stresses, stresses that ultimately doomed a partnership and brought my relationship with my only child to the brink. If it weren’t for an amazing love and forgiveness at work in all of this, combined with a mutual treasuring of each other, we wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.
The final hammer blow to the heart came on Sunday, April 25th, the day the church closed down. It was an event that pierced me like a rusty nail to the soul. All the other blows coalesced into this one final ritual funeral service for the life of the church. I couldn’t allow myself to openly show or experience the emotions swirling within me, since I had to lead many others through the closing worship as best I could. It took about 3 weeks for the sadness and grief to find their ways into my awareness, but they did with some force, and they haven’t altogether left yet.
I’ve moved past taking the church’s closing as a personal failure on my part. In truth, the church was dying well before I arrived; we did some good ministry together in the time we had; and ultimately, it was the surrounding community that decided the issue. Our expression of church no longer fit into the community’s shared sense of identity. It’s not unlike two people who can no longer relate to each other because they’ve grown too far apart. Throw in the cultural and language barriers between church and neighborhood and the question isn’t so much why the church closed, but why it didn’t close sooner.
Now I’ve got new concerns, pressing and urgent concerns about where I go next, what I do next, and when next I will find an opportunity to earn money to pay the bills.
These days I find my heart involved in different places; my treasure isn’t found in the fields I’ve tended for the past 6 years. I’ve moved on in body, mind and spirit. And now there are doors presenting themselves, seemingly all at once. Which one will open, and to where? What field and what treasure may be waiting behind each of them? Will there be familiar places and faces waiting, or will there be new places and new people to meet and new treasure to be found and shared? Will I continue down the road as parish pastor, or is there another path waiting for me? Right now about all I can say with any degree of certainty is, “God only knows.” That, and “wherever your treasure is, there you’ll find your heart.”