Monday, June 21, 2004

A Pastor Without a Church

For the first time in eight years, I am not a pastor. Between August 1996 and June 2004, I have been the shepherd of one, or two, particular flocks at a time.

Part of me is relieved, to be honest.

Frankly, I don’t miss the weekly responsibilities that go into making sure that worship happens on a Sunday, and all the attendant duties, including picking hymns, ordering the service, writing the sermon, wondering who will read the Scripture, and so on. And I sure don’t miss the overflowing toilets, the leaky ceilings, and the endless committee meetings!

Pastors also bear a high burden of “being there” for people in crisis, and I confess that it’s a bit of a relief not to have to worry about what is coming on the other end of the phone when I pick it up. I’ve heard my share of complaints and petty requests. And there’s always a visit that I haven’t made yet ...

At times this week, I’ve felt like stretching out my arms, heaving a deep sigh, and saying, “Ahhh, I don’t have to worry about ‘church.’”

Instead, the rest of my summer will be spent traveling to various churches, preaching and making Sunday School presentations. I can stand in front of a congregation, preach my heart out, tell them the way things are, and then walk out the front door. I don’t even have to watch my back!

Yesterday I preached two services at Whaley UMC in Gainesville, Texas. Rob Spencer is a missionary kid himself – his parents served in Brazil as missionaries of the GBGM when he was a child. He felt a kinship when he heard that we were leaving this fall, so he was quick to jump on the opportunity to have us preach.

Rob has done a fantastic job at Whaley. Worship was lively, celebrative, and fun! The place was full of kids and smiling faces. I had an attentive audience, and they seemed to respond to my message and calling.

But as I observed Rob interacting with his congregation, I knew exactly what I will miss the most over the next few months.

It was obvious that Rob was among friends. He hugged, patted, encouraged, and consoled. He laughed at inside jokes. He told stories. He embodies what a pastor should be – someone who is at the center of a multitude of relationships, holding them together with a gentle grace.

That’s what I will miss -- the relationships formed within one particular local congregation. In Cameroon, my work will take me to different churches on different Sundays. I will form relationships, but not with only one church. My work will be broad and supervisory.

I wonder what it will be like, after a year or so, not to have a local congregation where one is tied in, or connected, on a weekly basis. Will I miss being able to observe Cindy’s slow, but sustained growth in the Bible? Will I my gentle, but corrective counsel of Leo and Randy? Will I come to mourn the loss of so many close relationships with people with whom I literally walked side-by-side through hell?

What about Jo, who lost two daughters within the space of just a few short months? And Erwin – he came early every Sunday just to sweep the walk and hand me a few newsclippings? Won’t I miss that? Won’t I miss serving the sacraments to the same small group of people every month?

Of course I will.

Today I mourn that loss, and the end of so many close friendships at Trailwood.