Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Bethel was the place I officiated at my first funeral. Bethel was one of the three churches on the Stapleton Charge. Out in the country, it served the rural community of folks around it. One Sunday a month I would go out for Bethel's "preaching Sunday." The rest of the time it was just Sunday School on Sunday mornings. I had been a student pastor for almost two years before I got the call that I had dreaded receiving. While I knew I would eventually have to do funerals, I was certainly not eager for it to happen. I remember it as being more than a bit frightening. Interestingly enough, I have never had a funeral since in which more raw emotion was expressed. What I experienced that day was more than overwhelming for this preacher who was a deep shade of green. Nothing about seminary really provided the necessary preparation for that afternoon.
Of course, there have been many more since that first one. Even after all these years, they still remain as one of the more difficult moments of ministry. Being a pastor is like having an invitation to stand in the midst of one of the most significant and hardest moments in the life of a family. Back then, not knowing what to say prompted my greatest fear. However, what has been learned is that saying the right thing in those times is not nearly as important as simply being present with compassion and love.
When I said "Yes!" to Jesus and a call to preach, I did not ever really think about the way that decision would take me into such difficult moments of ministry. However, that single choice has enabled me to understand the reality of resurrection power prevailing in our lives. In those moments of loss and grief, I have always been so very thankful for that one single truth. It does not remove the pain of the grief, but it certainly causes us to grieve with a confidence that death does not have the last word.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I remember getting my first two wheeler when I was six. It was a 24 inch bike which was too big for me, but like a lot of other things, it was purchased with the assumption, "He will grow into it!" And I did, but it was only after a lot of bruises and cuts. It is a good memory, though, as it is one of the things I can remember my Daddy teaching me to do. As I remember learning to ride that bike, I remember it as being an exciting thing when I finally came to that point where no other hands were holding me up and I was wobbling along on my own.
This forgotten memory somehow came to mind today in a preacher's meeting as someone said, "If you don't know how to preach, you can learn." It made me think about the days when I first started learning to preach. While I had a course in seminary, the real learning started taking place when I arrived at my first preaching appointment. As I started remembering learning to preach, I found myself back in the Stapleton sanctuary. It was one of the three churches I served as my first appointment. It was at Stapleton that I started preaching without anything holding me up. By "holding me up" I mean notes and manuscript and such. It was there that I decided to try preaching without taking notes or manuscript to the pulpit. I remember wanting my preaching to be more exciting to those who were listening and decided that preaching without anything to hold me up would be more exciting for me. In my youthful way of thinking, I figured that it might make it more exciting for my congregation.
I did a lot of falling at first. I wobbled more than just a bit, but I did learn. It has shaped a lifetime of preaching. It has become my way of giving back to God what I trust that He has given to me to work with and to pray over. When the preparation is done, I like to think it is returned to Him with the request, "When You give it back on Sunday morning, do whatever editing You wish. After all, it is Your Word!" But, the truth is that good preaching always requires that Someone hold you up. Otherwise, falling is inevitable.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today is Moving Day. I told one of the girls last night that she might get an "itch" to make some significant change in her life today, but to hang on and it would pass. It was my way of reminding her that today was Moving Day across the Annual Conference. For those not in the know, on Wednesday after the second Sunday, those preachers who are moving to new appointments are on the move. It is sort of a Methodist version of "fruit-basket turnover." Fortunately, I am not participating this time around as we return here for year seven, but Moving Day does bring memories, nonetheless.
If I count right, and me counting is always a suspect thing, there have been seven Moving Days which have involved our family. The first one in 1971 took us to the Stapleton Charge. Then after three years, there was a move to Tennille and then after two years at that church there was a move to Talbotton where we stayed for four years. The fourth move was to the St. John Church in Columbus for a nine year stay and then to Vidalia where the unthinkable happened as we stayed there for an entire decade. After Vidalia there was a move to Perry for a four year stay and then on here to Richmond Hill where the seventh year is beginning. I have been fortunate and blessed to be able to stay in three appointments for twenty-six years of my ministry.
This ride on the itinerant ministry train has taken me to places I never would have thought about going. In every place lessons were learned and every place there were those folks with whom God enabled me to share in significant moments in their spiritual journey. Those people moments are the things remembered and the things for which I am most grateful.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I recently read the Biblical book known as "The Acts of the Apostles." While I have read it many times, I did it this time because I suggested it as summer reading material to our worshiping community the past few Sundays. It seemed appropriate to do what I was asking others to do so I read "Acts" again. It is one of my favorite sections of Scripture and I have preached from it so many times. As I was reading this time, I noted some trivia which had gone unnoticed on previous readings. Did you know that Acts records a "book burning?" (Acts 19:19) Did you know that some town could have put up a sign at the city limits saying, "Paul, the Apostle, got a haircut here?" (Acts 18:18) And, did you know Paul had a sister? (Acts 23:16) I must have missed those important facts on earlier readings!
When I read it this time, I found a new Bible that was unmarked so that it would make for a fresher read. I also decided to take special note of each reference to prayer in the story. Each time there was a reference to prayer, or each time it was implied, I circled the verses and asked, "What is the prayer lesson here?" I could preach all summer on the prayer passages and what is taught by them.
But, even though I was reading looking for the passages on prayer, I could not help but find myself being drawn into that powerful story of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the Apostles and those who were a part of that great first century movement of God. I kept remembering how someone has said, "Reading 'Acts' is like handling high voltage lines." He is right. It is. Reading "Acts" also always makes me long for something more for the church. It even makes me long for and get in touch with my own abiding hunger for more of God in my life.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
It was a year ago that I started blogging these "JourneyNotes." With this posting, I begin the second year. When I started I was not really planning not to do it, but I wondered if I would find it to be the communication tool I hoped it would be. I also wondered if it would really provide a way to experience a connection with folks who might respond in some way to what was written. Then, and now, the dialogue blogging offers is important.
But, to be honest, my biggest question about blogging had to do with anyone reading it. I really wondered if it would be read and if anyone would read once and then decide to come back to read again. What I have discovered is that "JourneyNotes" is a way of having dialogue with folks about our spiritual journeys, but that the dialogue is not always in the form of a comment on the blog page. Some are uncomfortable with the comment format of responding and have instead taken the time to have a conversation with me about something written. Like anyone who writes, every response is always received with appreciation.
So, as I move into Year 2, I do so praying that some of the things shared about my journey of faith will resonate as a part of your experience as well. I pray it will serve to encourage you as you go forth in your journey of faith even as so many of your comments and sharings have encouraged me in my journey. One thing is certain. We do not travel the Way alone. Not only is Christ with us, but he has privileged us to have like minded travelers to share the experiences of the journey. For His presence and the presence of each one of you, I am grateful.