I’m nearing the conclusion of an interim ministry at a Denver church that began only a couple of months ago. It’s a short one, as interim ministries go, but it’s been one that has blessed me in some unexpected ways. This is a medium sized congregation worshiping around 200-250 on Sunday, counting both services. The first service is more of a traditional service, though upbeat in the music and liturgy selected. The second service is what I describe as contemporary liturgical, with a band and vocalists leading the singing. There is a healthy mix of young and old coming to worship together every Sunday and there is also a healthy representation of people who have varying social outlooks, from liberal to conservative. This is unique in my experience, where churches have tended to gravitate toward a like-minded, conservative mindset.
The most striking feature of congregational life here is the obvious commitment to young people and the actions that the church takes to bring that commitment to life. How does that show itself, you ask? To me the most powerful display comes during Holy Communion, where children come forward with adults to the altar, where the outstretched hands of the 82-year-old wait alongside the outstretched hands of the 2-year-old. It’s one thing to talk about the importance of sacramental identity in the lives of the baptized, it’s another thing to see that identity lived out like this, Sunday after Sunday. Speaking of baptism, the tradition here is to invite children to gather along with the baptismal group around the font, and so they come to sit on the floor and watch as a new brother or sister is welcomed into the family of God in Christ.
There is also a children’s sermon at each service, and there are times when Sunday School craft tables are moved into the main hallway so that the kids are visibly in the mix of church activity. They need to do this sometimes to get some needed extra space, and they’re not necessarily thinking about the significance of kids making Noah’s ark decorations adjacent to adults in fellowship conversations. But it is significant and speaks to an unconscious competence in making sure that children know they are a valued part of the church community–and that the adult community knows this as well.
At yesterday morning’s early Sunday service, a bell choir provided special music, and I remember it as having one or two young people ringing bells with the group. The difference in worship styles between early and second service is truly life-giving. I come out of the first service feeling full, because I’ve participated in rich worship rooted solidly in our Lutheran tradition. I come out of the second service with a good spirit-buzz; the band plays the “Now the Feast and Celebration” with a strong back beat and some solid guitar licks.
It’s been a surprising time of blessing for me to serve as pastor there while their pastor is on sabbatical leave. When I say blessing, I think I also mean healing. I’d not considered the ways in which I’d been knocked around and down in my earlier experiences.
I’ve had what can best be described as positive mirror images to some unhealthy, negative experiences that came my way practically from the moment I came out of the seminary chute and into my first call. They’ve affirmed that the church can be a healthy, vibrant place and also that I can be a healthy, vibrant pastor.
My preaching is getting better; and I’m enjoying it again, from the preparation phase all the way to the delivery on Sunday. Bible studies are as fun as they’ve ever been, and the folks who come are well-read, curious and insightful in their own right. Our studies have become collaborative journeys involving the whole group, by far my favorite way to do it.
Back to preaching. I think I’m growing in the ability to proclaim grace in the framework of law and gospel, and do it in ways that respect and honor the diversity of folks gathered for worship. I’m also becoming more spontaneous and this has helped me shape the message in different ways so that the early risers hear something a little different from the second service folks.
At the moment, I don’t know what’s next for me after this interim ends at the end of the month. It’s easy to allow that uncertainty to grab hold of me in negative and fearful ways. So I focus on the blessings at hand and the blessings in hand. And in faith, I go forward into whatever God might offer me next.