Sunday, October 30, 2011

A wedding of sorts

This afternoon, I was installed as Pastor of the congregation I am called to serve. This is huge, at least for me. In order to be installed, we dated, had an engagement, an engagement party, a shower and finally a wedding. In church pastor terms, it went like this The dating -- we danced a bit together when I was one of the candidates invited to pursue the application process. The committee charged with selecting a candidate to present to the congregation sent me an email: please respond to the following 20 questions - submit your answers on a DVD (in order to do that, I had to purchase a DVD recorder and record myself talking). So, I did and sent it off - within days, I was invited to send a sample sermon. I believe sample sermons should be current and was able to send a copy of one I did at a pulpit exchange the following week. It was not the best recording, but was as good as I could do in the time frame. Then came the Skype interview - this was my favorite part because I got to meet and know some of the committee for the first time. They were earnest, articulate and asked intelligent questions. Most of all, they were enthusiastic about revitalizing this church - which was what drew me to them in the first place since I believe we need to revitalize church if church is to survive. The engagement - The committee liked what I had to say, and I liked them - I was invited to come to NM to preach a candidating sermon, to be shown around and to meet the people in the Skype window, the Church Council and the congregation at three separate times. They were wonderful and I could see that a marriage between us could work. Sunday's sermon went well, and I was voted in. The engagement party - started on my first day as pastor pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Rio Rancho NM. I was not installed, but called, that is hired but only as a temp since at the denomination level my credentials had been examined but the denomination wanted to know more about me before giving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. A good thing in this day of clergy misconduct. The shower - I guess the shower is when the Conference Minister tells me that my previous Conference had good things to say about me and that, if I passed one more committee, COCAM, I would be vetted. The gift is the Seal of Approval. a good gift since it means I am approved to work in the Southwest Conference United Church of Christ. Finally, the wedding. Today was the wedding. The final vows, as it were. We celebrated this with a service and a dinner (churches are known for worship and eating, right?) this afternoon. Earlier in the day, people asked me if I was excited - I was not. I was overwhelmed with the responsibility I was assuming. I am to take this congregation from a slow death to a congregation with a viable future. This is heady This is frightening. People look to me with hope of growth, but they also look to me as a pastor who won't make them uncomfortable. I almost did not go through with the wedding ceremony. My feeling about marriage and divorce is that marriage should be at least as difficult to obtain as a divorce would be. If I fail to inspire the congregation, if I fail in the attempt to bring us from slow death to slow life, if I lead us off a cliff many will be disappointed. I look in the mirror and tremble. Even before this marriage began, I knew that the would ask me to do things that will not lead them out of the downward spiral. And they have already: please don't change anything. Don't ask us to sing different music; don't ask us to pray differently; do sermons like the pastor we had in the 9160s did. Give us a good message but don't challenge us. My challenge every week is for them to find ways to be Jesus people in this world. It is pretty scary especially if you have been in a church for forty or fifty years that only asked you to give money. It is easier to give money than to give yourself. In my most hopeful moments, I feel God is calling this congregation to be around in ten years and longer - becoming vital, enthusiastic, engaging the Bible and working to be Jesus folk in our communities. We have hard work ahead. The honeymoon is about to begin!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Back Seat To God

It is time for me to stand up and say out loud that I am a member of St. Paul’s Rio Rancho United Church of Christ. This is the first step of a couple that lead to my installation as pastor of this congregation. Reflecting on this step, I am aware that joining anything except Facebook in this current social climate is iff-y if not downright suspicious. Joining often means that the joiner will receive emails from an automatic email generator and will never be free of too many emails that arrive each day. In Pennsylvania I shopped online when I found it difficult to go car-shopping since each small town around the county and in towns located in PA and NY sported one dealer. If I wanted to try a Ford, I needed to travel to Wellsboro; if I wanted a Subaru, to Mansfield, a Madza to Montoursville, a Toyota in Ithaca or a Nissan in some other city in New York. After much searching, I purchased a car last January and moved in the summer to New Mexico. Although I remembered to unsubscribe before leaving PA, I still receive automatically generated emails letting me know that if I just drive a bit, I can see a car in Syracuse or Baltimore! Joining seems to mean that tentacles of an octopus wrap around me and threaten to squeeze me like a boa constrictor if I try to get away. Several weeks ago, I looked at a home to purchase. Here is how I went about it. Prior to my purchase, I spent much time driving around looking at neighborhoods. And I spent much time online looking at homes for sale, condos for sale, townhouses for sale. Before I decided to buy, I looked at rentals all over this area. Close to the mountains - south of Rio Rancho but north of 40. Places I can afford and places I cannot afford. In the long run, I narrowed it down to a neighborhood. As I was online, looking, I received an email from a realtor saying I was looking at her site so why not make an appointment and let her show some of these homes. After thinking a week, I decided to let her show me homes. At this point, this is what she knew about me I had a first name, and an email address (not the one I use here at church). I told her I would meet her but she insisted I come to her office. I arrived at the appointed time. We looked at four condos and I made an offer on one. On returning to the office to write the offer, the agent said “You realize you have to give me your last name so I can write the contract.” Fear of joining runs deep. Somehow, however, I have come to think like Paul: if I don’t join, then I lose much. My soul. So on Sunday this past Sunday I joined St. Paul’s United Church of Christ as its new pastor. I am called to lead this congregation through a scary process of revitalization. In my darkest moments, I remember that Paul started churches and Jesus was merely trying to revitalize the zealots of his. I have started a church and am now revitalizing - revitalization is more challenging. As new church planter, I had all leeway to do what I thought best. As revitalizer, I have 78 opinions to consider. Actually, there may not still be 78 as a few have left, not liking where we are going. I tell them I read my job description, but that does not change the movement out-of-comfort-zone-to-uncharted-territory. Some know if there is no change, the church will close, but it would be a couple years from now and there could, quite possibly, be a miracle that saves the church. If the congregation pursues change, it could lead to the closing of the church, but then we are not leaving room for the people who used to fill the pews to return. I empathize. But press forward. I take heart in the fact that at least two-thirds of the congregation supports the direction chosen by the whole congregation. As new member, I have as much to loose as the longest term member. My church. I feel so strongly that if we do nothing, we lose everything, that I am willing to take the chance of uncharted change and growth. One hopes. And prays. A friend reminded me to always consider God in my blog. Here is my consideration: each day, I pray for guidance, for help, for kindness and understanding, and courage to lead this congregation forward. When people tell me they want to talk to God, I try to remind them that after talking, the next part - the hardest part - is listening. I listen and hope the thoughts that come into my head are what God is saying. Even as revitalizer, I take a back seat to God.