Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So this is what is like to be a pastor...

Since Thursday of last week my supervisor has been out of town, leaving me as the only "pastor" on site. He got back today (Tuesday) and it took until today to really feel like I can be a pastor. And there is a couple of reasons why. First was the monthly pastor's meeting (local ELCA Lutheran pastors, don't get too excited). There was no preset agenda for the meeting for the day so what we did was go around the room, just checking in with each congregation that was represented there. Now, normally I go with my supervisor and neither one of us says much. I say little because I defer to Pastor Joe (my supervisor) for any information about what is happening at church. And Pastor Joe says little because is rather introverted and doesn't say much to begin with. But today was different, Pastor Joe wasn't there, so I said very little for the majority of the meeting. I listened to each pastor and/or intern say something about the congregation that they were at until everyone had their turn and finally someone said that we should hear about what is going on at Family (Family of Christ is the congregation that I am at). Now I finally get to speak as an equal. Pastor Joe isn't here to speak to the rest of the group on behalf of Family, it is now my responsibility. I reflect on what is going on at Family as well as a couple of other things that I noticed during the course of the meeting. I felt like I was on equal terms with everyone in the room, and not just the interns! After the meeting was over, a couple of the pastors came and talked to me about what I had said and I finally felt like I was able to make a connection with the people that were present in that group (after seven months of going to these meetings!).

The second thing that happened was that after I got back from my meeting I talked with the church secretary and asked her what it was that I had missed while I was gone all morning. I fully expected to have missed nothing but I was told that there was a small emergency that happened and instead of having my first thought be that I should defer to Pastor Joe for whatever might end up happening, I took charge and made phone calls. It was an interesting transition to have the thought that I can't take care of this emergency to this is something that I need to address and it will do no good to wait until Pastor Joe can take care of it.

The reality of the situation is that these are rather small incidents in the course of the week, but it made me feel like I am finally filling this role. It is one thing to lead worship and preach and teach confirmation and to help with the youth, but it is another to add this pastoral element that has been lacking so far in my experience. In seven and a half months of time at this church, today I felt like a pastor; and I think that I can live with that position. I don't think that I have to run away from it or fear that I will be inadequate. If there ever was an experience that was going to reaffirm my call, today was just that.

Reflections on Lent and Holy Week

I have found that if there is one major difference about Lent as an employee of a church versus simply being a church member is that as an employee you are held much more accountable for your Lenten disciplines than you are as a church member. I made it no secret that I had given up junk food for Lent (no soda, cookies, candy, chips, fast food, etc), and people didn't let me forget; especially the youth that I work with. One Sunday night, during youth group, I had brought strawberries and whip cream for the kids to snack on. I had a strawberry with whip cream and one of the kids started to give me the third degree for eating whip cream. I never thought of whip cream as junk food, it's more of a condiment, but after that point I didn't eat whip cream.

But there was more to Lent than not eating junk food. I taught my first Pre-Communion (First Communion) class. It was a small class of just four kids, but I really enjoyed it. And, after five weeks, when Maundy Thursday rolled around and it was time to give communion to the kids for the first time, I was almost in tears. I don't think that I have ever been a part of or worshiped in a Maundy Thursday service that moved me as much as that one did. Communion, especially now, has lost some of it's luster, but seeing the pure joy and excitement in the eyes of the children as they held out their hands and received communion for the first time was enough to make anyone's heart leap with joy. And then to see the parents overflowing with joy as their child fully enters into relationship (communion if you will) with the rest of the congregation, there was so much joy present in that moment. I don't know if I will ever be able to top that Maundy Thursday experience.

Good Friday service was enjoyable, but the Easter Vigil was another special experience. Instead of just having people read through the many readings of the night, people volunteered to read and had creative liberty to do as they wished. Some simply read, some did a creative narrative retelling, but one parent was rather creative. He read through the passage of Ezekiel talking about the dry bones and each time he said "dry bones" he had the half a dozen kids that he had up there with him shake, rattle and roll the various instruments that they had. The kids got so into it, it was hard not to smile at this somber passage.

Easter Sunday came, bright and early with the sunrise service at 7am. It was a small service, but it somehow set the day apart from other Sundays. Not to say that Easter Sunday is just any Sunday, but it somehow changed the tone for the rest of the day. And perhaps one of the most joyful parts of the day for me (and simply because it is something that I have wanted to do since I was a kid) was to stand at the front of the congregation, at the start of the service, before announcements were given and say, "Alleluia, He is Risen!!!" And then have the congregation respond, "He is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!!!" There is power and joy in those words and it is such a different experience to say those words from the other side of the pew.

All in all, I enjoyed Lent and Holy week. Holy week was not nearly as stressful as I thought that it was, but maybe that is simply because I am an intern right now and not a full blown pastor. But I think that with one Holy week under my belt now, I can say that I can look forward to another ... and another ... and another (you get the idea).