Monday, November 26, 2007

It's What I Do - It's Who I Am

Yesterday was the first time I had been in the pulpit in about a month. Before yesterday, my last time to preach was the last Sunday of October. That's quite a stretch for me.

I was present for All Saints' Sunday, but one of my partners in ministry was scheduled to preach. I was in the UK on the 11th, and, upon my return, sat in the pews on the 18th as our youth led the service (to say they rocked the house would be to understate it - and watching you own sons in the pulpit and lectern doing their thing is a Twilight Zone episode waiting to happen).

I had not sat in the pews for worship in a long, long time. And, let me tell you, given the choice of being in the pulpit to preach or sit in the pews and parent a 6 year old - it's a no brainer.

I don't think I had ever had such an extended time not to preach in 20 years (not counting my days as an Associate, of course), including vacation.

I was conscious of the time apart from the preaching task. On balance, I was taken by how quickly it came and went. As I prepared this week, I found myself remarkably calm. Now, I'm no real judge on how these things go - I'm usually pretty hard on myself, but as I offered the "amen" to end the homily, I was taken by a powerful, if not palpable sense of confirmation.

Confirmation not that I had done it well, or right, or had the unique slant on a familiar scripture that no one had dared speak until it was uttered from my mouth (please, spare me). No, it was a confirmation that this "thing" is what I do - it is who I am.

And that's not always a comfortable thought to live with.

My tenure in ministry, as my own life, is middle-aged. No longer the young rebel who can say what he wants when he wants and have blanket of security that comes from "being young." And not old enough to have my words or counsel be considered sage or wise - it's easy to find one's self caught in the vice of the quest for meaning.

Middle aged ministers whose ministries are middle aged is a dangerous place to be. Most of us at this age have circled on our calendars when the magic number of years served hits so that we can actually consider doing something else with the rest of our lives.

That number? 20.

20 years of service as acknowledged by the General Board of Pensions, and any of us in such a situation can "retire" and retain half of the pension paid in for us when we reach the "real" retirement age.

Although I first went under appointment in '87, those student years don't count with the good folks up at the Pension Board, so I have another number hanging out there for me, 2009.
Like the middle aged person who buys a hot rod, gold chains, and trades in for a, uh, newer, younger partner, middle aged ministers are tempted by thoughts of what could be - especially if what has been has not lived up to their wish dreams.

Too many of us deal with the crushing reality that we have not changed the world, the church, or anybody else, for that matter, except our own selves, and those changes are rarely healthy ones. In the middle, we find our souls battered, bruised, and the state of our physical bodies gives compelling evidence of what is going on inside.

"How is it with our souls?" you ask? Be careful, you may not really want to know how the souls of many of us who are called to lead congregations really are. And some of us need to move on - to find other expressions of ministry. Some of us need to find healthier habits of head, heart and body. Some of us just need time to heal.

So yesterday was an unexpected means of grace for me. But isn't every means of grace - unexpected!

The drawing posted above is from Collins. I'm just coming to know him. He is an artist - very right brain, empathetic, intuitive person.

Some folks who sit in the pew take notes when I preach (which I find pretty funny, as if I had something to say worth taking notes over). Collins doesn't take notes, he draws pictures.

Drawing pictures in church - I think he's on to something.

Anyway, he gave me this drawing not too long ago.

It's a unique thing to be handed a drawing of you by someone else. That drawing shines light on the truth of my being - whether tempted to do or be something else. Spirits such as his see what is "true" whether I want to acknowledge it or not.

I don't know what the future holds within this Church I love. There are winds of change blowing, and I suppose that is inevitible.

But in whatever form proclamation of the Gospel takes for me in the next 20 years, it will be there. It has to be.

This is what I do. It's who I am.

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