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Tumbleweed Likely to Tumble Down Different Road Soon

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Happy 2012 y’all!  How was your Christmas?  Your Hanukkah?   Your Festivus?  Your New Year’s?

To my colleagues and church friends, how are those annual congregational meetings going?

It’s been quite the break between posts and there’s a part of me that feels badly about not posting the last couple of months.

Yet the hiatus is also a necessary outcome of all the doin’s and not-doin’s that have caused a fair amount of upheaval and general consternation.

Specifically, I’m getting the message that there’s not likely going to be any further opportunities to serve as pastor in the denomination I’ve served for the past ten years.  Maybe it’s just the geography I’m in, maybe it’s the current state affairs with both congregations and synod offices, maybe it’s just a long dry spell that is lasting much longer than I could anticipate.

But the reality of the situation is that for almost two years now, there hasn’t been a congregation that has been interested in extending a call my way.  The other reality is that for reasons that go as yet unexplained, the few interim assignments I’ve been offered have been increasingly  marginal in hours and compensation.   Meanwhile, I’ve needed to be working and my mailbox keeps bringing me news that I have bills to pay.   Without friends and family, this past Christmas would have been a bit too Dickensian.

I’ve loved doing the valuable work of ministry among people for ten years, and I’ve been blessed to do it in three different states.    A pastor wears a lot of hats:  worship leader, chaplain, teacher, student, administrator,  fellow-seeker, friend, and of course, ambassador for the renewing grace and acceptance of Christ.   I’ve been honored and blessed to wear those hats in my ministry.  It’s been a blast when I’ve found that one of my classes or sermons has sparked something in a person, and it’s been amazing when a few people in the church have sparked something in me as well.  I’ve been most privileged to have people invite me into the most intimate and crucial points of their lives so that I might walk a bit of their roads with them to share in the pain and pleasure of those moments.  I’m really glad that my career in ministry began with the chance to officiate 3 weddings in two months.   It’s interesting that my last pastorate ended with a bunch a funerals that culminated in the final funeral for a closing congregation.

These are tough, tough times for the church, especially those expressions of church that were built in the 20th century–the mid-twentieth century, to be more specific.  Congregations across the country are shriveling and dying at an ever increasing rate.  And the ones that aren’t can begin to see some ominous storm clouds on their horizon.  I was out on the front end of that curve; normally I wouldn’t mind being considered as being out on the cutting edge, but when that edge does its cutting this close to home, well………………………

I’m aware that it may not be such a bad thing that nobody wants to punch my ticket and let me climb on board a ship that is taking on water faster than it can be bailed.  It’s just that I spent about 5 years of my life preparing for that boat ride, and spent another ten out sailing.   But massive quakes are hitting the church now, and unless one can find a place with a group that is equipped to roll with those tremors, it’s maybe better to be outside the building while it threatens to collapse on those who continue in their denial with all the stubborness of someone who refuses to accept their own mortality.

What is happening is nothing short of a New Reformation in the 21st century.  Christianity is being renewed and reformed in ways that must just scare the daylights out of those folks who’d planned to just stay the course until they could retire and cash in on their pensions.    And unfortunately, much of the church’s financial woes can be traced to those folks who are in that very process of moving up this suddenly burdensome salary ladder; they may be offering great experience and talented ministry, but they are also part of the reason the church is being hollowed out from the inside.  They can come up with some pretty dynamic program ideas and offer the church some great charismatic leadership, but these things won’t forestall the changes already shifting the ground beneath their feet.   Only a committment to the essentials of life you find revealed in the gospels can be of some help.  There is much to argue about when it comes to those essentials, but for me they’ve  meant an openness to God’s Spirit and a real, honest dedication to the exploration of scripture that is combined with an ongoing pattern of prayer; and these things are fed by worship that connects us to these things and to one another.

Ah, I digress.  The point of this post was to say that it appears one door is being shut.  But in the roiling process of figuring out What’s Next, another door appears to be opening, one I’d never have considered.    If I walk through that door I’ll be finding new homes for all my books, clothes and other pastor-related things I’ll no longer use.   I figure that if God still wants to use my talents in some church-related way, it’ll be in a totally different place than where  I’ve been.  In fact, I’m wondering if this is in fact my calling and my version of Reformation.

The bottom line is that I’ve mostly enjoyed being the one to proclaim God’s grace to folks for the past ten years.  Now maybe it’s time to start living in that grace, and letting it take me through the next door and on to the next chapter.

I’ll be saying more about this, but I can’t say when I’ll be saying it.  So there.  ‘Nuff said.

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4 responses »

  1. Good Luck and God Bless You and Yours! Where ever the road leads you am sure God hands are the making of your next adventure. It is really hard to accept change sometimes, Don’t forget to update, when your ready.
    Pat from NY

  2. Hi, Pat. Thanks!

    Hope you all are doing well in beautiful upstate New York.

  3. You write well Dan. It is frightening for most pastors in the ELCA to look around their congregations and the larger church to see resources shrinking and play out these trends for the next five, ten or twenty years. In the Collegium, I posted a blog about Olsteen’s church in Texas where one can see the direction American Christianity is going – narcissism with little interest in justice issues. Regarding finding a Call, if you were to be completely mobile, i.e., willing to go to ND and points beyond, do you think something would come your way?

  4. Hi, Robert,

    I’ve opened myself up to a wide area across the country, and have had a conversation with an East Coast church leader who expressed a little interest and said he’d keep me in mind for anything that might come up in the next six months.

    The Olsteen blog reminds me of a time when he came to Denver and packed the Pepsi Center. We had a fellow in the church–a wonderful guy, mind you–who was on the shut-in list. He lived about 4 blocks from the church–I used to walk there to visit him–but we never saw him at church after he went through a traumatic surgery. However, I found out later that he and his daughters were excited enough about Olsteen to load up the wheelchair and oxygen bottle, make the drive into town, park, and navigate themselves to their seats in a sold-out Pepsi Center. I guess we just didn’t have enough pop and sizzle to inspire similar behavior.

    I really appreciate your church work, Robert, and I’m continually impressed with the quality and depth of your writing in the church newsletter. Keep on keepin’ on!

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