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!

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