Some of you know that I serve as a faculty member for the CREDO program, which is run by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and offers clergy an opportunity to focus on the many aspects of their health and wellbeing in the midst of the challenges of ministry. At the end of a CREDO conference, the faculty members conclude by inviting people to think about how they will re-enter their lives after a week away to care for themselves. We encourage the participants, before sharing what happened to them at CREDO, to first ask those at home, “What has happened while I was away?” It’s a way to let those who have “held down the fort” have a chance to share their experiences and hear that you value what they did to allow you time away. CREDO wants ministers to re-enter life and ministry well, a practice I’ve been using in my own re-entry process with my life and our ministry.
What has happened while I was away? The short answer is, “A lot!” The longer answer is more complex. First and foremost, I’ve learned that our staff has led our church through the summer. They have picked up a variety of tasks in the office while Tami and I were away. They have made it possible for us to have in-person Sunday school. They have invited you all to sing. They have prepared for worship. They have worked on the building. And, they have fielded a variety of issues with grace and patience. I cannot say often enough how grateful I am to Lisa, Stephanie, Garrett, Jim, and John for their work and leadership to continue our ministry and projects. I hope you will take a moment to thank them before you ask them for any further help or support.
I have also learned that many of you have carried this ministry as well. Weekly worship services continued online thanks to the efforts of a team of people committed to preaching, being liturgists, running the livestream, running the camera, and singing. Our commitment to Food Justice continued because people believe we are called to feed the hungry through our pantry distribution, Noontime meal, JanPeek, Garden of Hope. Our commitment to developing a Mental Health Ministry has grown because a group of people planned and implemented a training to make us more aware of the mental health we all need. Our commitment to the faith formation of all ages made a way for people to stay connected in intentional fellowship and study over the summer and prepare us for Sunday School and Faith4Life groups this fall. These are just some of the ways that you did ministry this summer and set us up as well as possible in the midst of a pandemic to make an impact in people’s lives.
I also learned what’s happened in many of your lives while I was gone. Joys and concerns abound in your lives. Delayed grief finding expression. Reunions with family after two years apart. Adults and youth are getting vaccinated and receiving booster shots to help them feel safer. Anxiety and frustration are still high for many. Connections to nature have become life-giving in new ways. I’ve appreciated phone calls, emails, and texts with people to catch up and share our lives with one another and offer support.
Finally, I have learned that our fall focus on the three goals – remember, reconnect, and recommit – and our six ministry priorities (RADICAL HOSPITALITY, COMPELLING WORSHIP, LIFELONG FAITH FORMATION, INTENTIONAL FELLOWSHIP, INSPIRATIONAL STEWARDSHIP, and TRANSFORMATIONAL MISSION) are exactly where we need to be focusing right now. We are having to learn again how to be a community. We are having to learn how to be guided by our faith rather than the catastrophic thinking and anxiety that has shaped our perspectives over the last 18 months. We are having to learn what it means to be formed by shared priorities of ministry rather than personal preferences or agendas. It’s no surprise that we would need to remember, reconnect, and recommit to a life together.
Even in the midst of the challenges and what we must learn anew, however you have been faithful – faithful in your service and support, your generous giving, committed ministry, and the sharing of God’s good news in our lives and through us to many more. We can look back like Moses did with the Israelites and see that through the ups and downs, God has provided, God has taught us along the way, and God has brought us to this present moment to continue to be the body of Christ. We are still here, and we are learning how to be the community of people who love God, love our neighbors, and love creation the way God intends. I’m grateful for all that has happened while I was away and for the church we are becoming as we remember, reconnect, and recommit to God’s purposes for our life and ministry together.