Posts Tagged ‘pastor

29
Mar
22

Pray a Prayer of Peace

With everything going on in the world today, I know your prayer list is probably full to overflowing. 

But I wonder… can I coax you into squeezing ONE MORE group of people onto it? Just for today?

Please?

Can I ask you to pause a moment and say a quick prayer for United Methodist pastors and their families?

In case you don’t know, this time – from about February to late May – is an incredibly stressful time of year for this group of people. It is the time of year when they each wait on pins and needles for THE CALL. That is, the call from their Bishop or District Superintendent that begins pleasantly enough, (“Good evening, Russell! How are things with you and the family?”) then rapidly disintegrates into a conversation that can COMPLETELY turn their world upside down (“The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”)

A quick primer for you non-United Methodists in the crowd: every United Methodist pastor is appointed to serve a particular church by the Bishop and the Bishop’s Cabinet. That appointment is always a ONE YEAR deal. 

Always.

Every December, the pastor, and a group of volunteer leaders in that church, begin a discernment process. The process is designed to answer the question: “Is this pastor still right for this church?” And conversely, “Is this church still right for this pastor?”

Hopefully, the answer is always YES by both. Hopefully that relationship continues blissfully on, year after year after year. 

But every United Methodist pastor knows there is always the possibility of the COSMIC CURVEBALL. By that I mean, a call that comes TOTALLY from left field from one of the Grand Poobahs of Methodism that utterly trashes your designs for the future. It’s the one that goes, “The Cabinet met yesterday and discerned the need for a change we’d like you to think about.”

I received two of those calls in my ministerial career. And let me tell you, few things have rocked my socks more than those phone calls did. 

On one hand, you know you are free to decline the offer and say “NO.” 

On the other hand, you know that when you signed up to be a pastor in the United Methodist tradition, you signed up to ITINERATE. That is, to GO when the Spirit (or her representative, the Cabinet) says, “GO!” 

You know that when (if) you say yes, there will be at least three months of “treading water” at your current place until you report to your new location on July 1. 

You also know that saying “YES” means you are facing a brand-new environment for you, for your spouse and children (if you have any), a brand-new set of possibilities and problems, a brand-new congregation, a brand-new house, a brand-new school system, a brand-new chance to FINALLY get it right, and a brand-new context for ministry.

So many “brand-news” in such a short period. 

So, in comparison to everything else roiling the world today, this probably ranks as a teeny-tiny issue in God’s eyes. But for someone who has been in these shoes, I can tell you; it is kind of an agonizing few months. You don’t completely relax until that Magic Methodist Moment (July 1) rolls around and the new ministry calendar begins. 

So yes, please… if you can spare a moment to pray a prayer of peace for those folks, I know they would appreciate it.

Thanks a bunch.

Abundant blessings;

23
Apr
20

Helicopter Prayers

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”         – Psalm 28:7, NRSV

Medevac helicopterShe was tiny. So tiny the bed covers seemed to swallow her.

There were so many wires and tubes and machines protruding from her it was difficult to find the person in the forest of medical technology.

She had been here a little over a week. Her cancer – originally diagnosed five years ago – had returned with a vengeance. Emergency surgery had recently been performed to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor from her abdomen. No one – including her family – was painting an optimistic picture.

Rose was dying. And she knew it.

My friend Bill was Rose’s pastor. When he walked into Rose’s hospital room, he was prepared for the worst. During his six years serving this congregation, Bill had come to know Rose as a woman of deep faith and high energy. Her special mission was taking communion to the – as she called them – “old folks” who could not make it to the worship service to receive the Sacrament directly.

Rose, incidentally, was 82.

Rose’s eyes were closed as Bill pulled a chair up to the side of her bed. He didn’t want to disturb her and so thought he might just say a brief, silent prayer, leave his business card on the bedside table and tiptoe out the door.

As soon as he sat down, Rose’s eyes opened. She turned her head to the right and said cheerily, “Well good morning, Pastor!” Then quickly asked, “It is morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is morning, Rose,” Bill said. “I am so sorry I woke you up. I know you probably need your rest.”

“Oh nonsense,” she said with a weak, dismissive wave of her bandaged and intubated hand. “There will be plenty of time for resting after I’m gone. Actually, you caught me in the middle of my new ministry.”

“Oh?” Bill said, not even trying to conceal the tone of surprise in his voice. “Tell me about that.”

Rose replied, “Well, if you look out those windows there on the other side of the room, you will see that my room looks out directly onto the hospital’s helipad. Can you see it?”

“Yes,” Bill replied. “I see it.”

“Well, every time the helicopter takes off from there, I say a prayer for the pilot and each of the medical people on board. I pray that they will reach their destination safely. And then when the helicopter comes back, I say a prayer for the person they are taking into the hospital and for all the staff who will be taking care of them.”

Rose paused a moment and then added, “They just took off a minute ago and so I was in the middle of my prayer when you walked in.”

By every outward measure, Rose’s situation was hopeless. The progression of her illness was beyond the reach of the best that medical science could offer. Only a miracle (never to be dismissed!) could save Rose at this point.

And yet, in the midst of it all, Rose’s spirit prevailed. Hope did not die. Rose’s hope came from a deep trust that God would always provide for her… even if that provision was not designed to be in the form of physical healing.

Like each of us who are dealing with this virus, I have an entire set of hopes related to my own health and safety and the health and safety of the people I love. But when I think of Rose and the hope that sustained her, I am comforted to remember that the deepest, most lasting hope comes from putting my whole trust in God… no matter what set of circumstances I might be facing.

Abundant blessings;

31
Oct
19

“Nope. Not you.”

rejectedRejection hurts.

“Don’t take it personally,” they say. But sometimes personally is the only way you can take it.

It’s like the time I was cut from the eighth-grade basketball team. The first three practices were the tryouts. The day after the third practice, a piece of paper was thumbtacked to the bulletin board outside the coach’s office. On the paper were the names of the 10 boys who made the team. If your name didn’t appear there, you had been cut.

I remember standing there with the other guys in front of the bulletin board, searching and searching to find my name. One by one they each called out in delight as they saw their names listed.

I got to the bottom of the list and hadn’t seen my name. I went back to the top, convinced I had somehow just overlooked it and went S-L-O-W-L-Y back to the bottom.

It wasn’t there.

I had been cut.

Rejected.

And yes, it was very personal.

Or there was that time in the ninth grade when I called Marsha Westbrook to ask if she wanted to go to Alan’s party with me. I didn’t call it a date, but that’s exactly what it was.

Marsha was a pretty and popular girl. Most of my friends would have agreed that I was punching WAY above my weight limit by asking her out. I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number.

It didn’t take her long at all to come up with a response. Without skipping a beat I heard, “No, I don’t think so.” She offered no excuses, no false dodges or made-up conflicts like, “Oh sorry… I have to wash my hair that night.”

Just NO.

Rejection in the most personal way possible.

Becoming an adult has not inoculated me from rejection as I once hoped it might. I have heard, “Nope. Not you,” at job interviews, community theater auditions, attempted bar pick-ups (during my footloose single days between marriages), and in response to grant applications.

All rejections sting. All of them feel deeply personal.

And as other pastors will readily testify, few rejections sting as much as the rejections we sometimes receive from the churches we serve. As the spouse of one pastor I knew once said so eloquently, “Ain’t no hurt like a church hurt.”

I suppose it is partly because the church is the LAST place we would expect to experience rejection. “Surely,” we think to ourselves, “… a group of people committed to following the Lord of Love would refrain from the use of knives and daggers and cudgels in their relationship with their Appointed Shepherd.”

But alas… sometimes we find out that is not the case at all.

I can’t tell you why the topic of rejection has floated to the top of my consciousness so prominently today. Right now I am in a good place physically, mentally, and spiritually. I haven’t had a door slammed in my face for at least two weeks.

It might be that I am reacting to recent stories about people experiencing the sting of rejection on the basis of some God-given aspect of their identity. This kind of torment still happens today much too frequently and seems to perpetuate from one generation to the next.

It could be that I am still smarting from my personal rejection episodes. I have discovered that rejection is not a wound that heals quickly. The cut goes all the way to the center of your soul.

And so if you are in a season of rejection right now – for whatever reason – I am really sorry. It hurts and it takes a long time to heal.

You also need to know that the rejection you received is often not about you at all. Sometimes it happens for irrational, unpredictable reasons. That company might have known the person they were going to hire before they even placed the ad, but protocol required that they “go through the motions” of searching anyway.

Often the rejection you received is much more about THEM than it is about YOU. It is born from some deep insecurity that can only be assuaged – they believe – by belittling someone else.

My sister… my brother; if you have been rejected, take heart. The only way we ever escape rejection completely is by staying out of the arena completely… by sealing our heart up in an airtight chamber to keep it safe, secure, and utterly dead.

And so at the risk of sounding trite and potentially dismissive, I close with this: never forget that the One who holds the universe in the palm of his hand loves you more profoundly than you will ever be capable of understanding.

As Paul once said, long ago;

 “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”(Ephesians 3:16-17, NRSV).

09
Oct
19

One Funeral Too Many

Jesus began to weep. (John 11:35, NRSV)

Hugging menHere lately I have been going to entirely too many funerals.

OK, I suppose you could say this is just par for the course for people in that “certain” age bracket to which I now officially belong.

But it seems that since officially retiring from the ministry on July 1, I have gone to WAAAAY more funerals than in any similar three-month stretch in memory. And only one of these was for an elderly, 90+ year-old man who died of the legendary “natural causes.”

The funeral yesterday was the one that hit me hardest of all. It was a service for the 61-year-old spouse of one of my pastor colleagues who died from a particularly aggressive and fast-moving cancer.

I hadn’t even heard she was ill.

I know I reacted so strongly to Doreen’s service because of the cancer scare we had just a little over a year ago with Joan. As I sat in the sanctuary yesterday listening to the music, watching the slideshow of family photo memories and gazing into the grieving faces of friends and family, I nearly lost it.

It was a great service, as these things go. The pastor (not my friend, her husband) did one of the very best officiating jobs I have ever experienced. And I have seen/officiated at a LOT of funerals. She was tender at the appropriate moments, funny when that was called for, gave comfort and hope to all of us, and was theologically rock solid throughout.

I guess I responded the way I did because right there, in the middle of the whole thing, the utter fragility of life became a little too real for me. My mortality, Joan’s mortality, the mortality of everyone I care about suddenly stood up and slapped me in the face.

HARD!

And as it did, the absurdity of the service came into focus as well. I mean, what are we trying to do here, I asked myself? In a way I felt like a caveman, gathering with other cavepeople around a roaring fire, believing we were safe from evil as long as we stayed within the fire’s friendly yellow ring of light.

When asked to officiate at a funeral, I carry with me the belief that a thoughtful, compassionately conducted funeral service can go a long way toward kick-starting the healing process for a family. My goal has always been to leave folks with some kind of “spiritual lifeline” to grab hold of in the ensuing weeks after the rush of arrangement-making, hosting family and friends from out of town, and all of the administrative aftermath of a death dies down and the quiet finally sets in.

But regardless of how well any officiant does our job, we can’t carry your grief for you. Nothing we say can anesthetize or paper over the hole that has suddenly appeared in the middle of your life.

Funerals, even at their best, are always too brief, too superficial, and too impersonal to permanently stave off the darkness.

But maybe that is not even the outcome we should be shooting for.

Maybe we should ask something higher, better, and more realistic from these ceremonial post-mortem gatherings of ours.

Maybe we could come to see funerals as times to turn toward one another knowingly, and tenderly, and say, “My God this is precious. Forgive me, sister, for ever drawing one breath without exhaling gratitude. Pardon me, brother, for taking for granted any moment, any conversation, any laugh we have shared. Let’s use the holy moment of this dear one’s passing to renew our vow to wrap our arms tightly around each other and around our Creator and to DANCE through the rest of whatever limited time here we have.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.




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