There will be other services of installation in which you will have a part, but you will never again participate in your own at this particular church. And so, my charge to you, the newly installed co-pastor of DOWNTOWN CHURCH, begins with a simple instruction…remember.
- Remember that you were not offered a job by a search committee because you were the most qualified candidate, but that you were, like Abraham and Sarah, singled out by the creator of the universe to leave the comfort and predictability of home for the fragile uncertainty of the future.
- Remember the multitude of hands pushing down on you all at the same time and holding you still during your installation prayer.
- Remember that one of your teachers showed up to preach at your church and brought a good word with her.
- Remember the lump that gathered in your throat as you responded to those weighty constitutional questions.
- Remember the sensation that slid down your spine as you were reminded again that you have been set apart within the church to do a serious thing - witness to the divine through the proclamation of God’s living word and the administration of the sacraments. The days are going to get long and at the end of those long days you will be tempted to forget what just happened here. Do not let this moment become a soup of sappy memories. This didn't just feel good. Something happened to you. To us.
You’ve already noticed that the days can get long at DOWNTOWN CHURCH. There are many souls hungry for the bread of life. We got the bread but are just four hands passing it out. As the days get long you will second guess yourself and wonder why you went to the trouble of moving across the country. As the days get long you might grow tired of sharing leadership, and pencils, and preaching dates with your co-pastor. And, as the days get long you will just be plain old tired. The long days will cause you to doubt, to wonder if God is going to make you walk around in circles like the Israelites before you reach the promised land. The long days will make you second guess what you thought was God’s voice saying go to Columbia, SC. Still, know that second guessing God is ok. This is natural. This is not a sin. However, it is not healthy for you to ignore your spirit, your inner teacher, when these feelings of apathy arise. Do not neglect what your spirit is desperately trying to tell you. Take time to be quiet and listen intently in that one place where deep meets deep and you know that God can’t help but be in the middle of it. There you will find the truth about your desires, your frustrations, your pain, your joy, your visions. Go there…often.
Also, remember to read scripture. I know this sounds trite and simple, especially for us Presbyterians that value a well rounded and robust season of training in seminary. Bit, in my experience I've found that you will be tempted to take a few shortcuts. You will be tempted to parody the language of whatever bible scholar is en-vogue before reading scripture. So, read scripture and let the smart people that write books be one partner in your conversation with God. Stand firm, there is no substitute for the study of scripture.
Be wary of the temptation to settle in and be a copycat. Being creative and taking risks, and looking like you are walking around in circles all the while, takes perseverance and foolishness. So, be a fool by being skeptical of what the crowds say is sensible, ordinary, doable, manageable, possible, successful, conventional. Read scripture and learn from your colleagues but don’t ignore the local voices in your church and in your Bible. Stand firm, there is no substitute for the study of scripture. The gospel is not conventional, sensible, or ordinary. It’s strange, and has the power to make you strange. And when you get strange, trust that you are being sanctified by your strangeness.
You will be tempted to trust in your charisma instead of reading scripture. And we like you because you got some karis, some spirit. But your charisma cannot sustain that call. Stand firm, there is no substitute for the study of scripture.
The trending Bible Scholar will one day seem nostalgic, the tall steeple wont always be so tall, and even here, in the beautiful thing that is DOWNTOWN CHURCH you will encounter church mean, a special variation of mean that has no regard for your charisma, but even church mean needs a pastor. The grass will wither and the flower will fade, but the living word of God will stand forever. You are an artist by virtue of your call to make manifest the mysteries of God. An artist will starve if she doesn’t know her tools. Your primary tool is scripture. Read it.
Dawn, people will tell you that as a pastor, you are not alone. That you have a co-pastor. This is true, most of the time. And most of the time it may still feel like you are alone. Your call is singular. We are not interchangeable like rechargeable batteries. Sure, both of us might describe our work with similar words. But, I cannot proclaim the word of God for you. I will not wrestle with the particular principalities and powers that put asterisks beside female pastors that got game. I will not have to deal with the particular issues associated with working with me or being married to Tim. On some days, it will feel like you are alone and on that day, the family grieving a loss will need you, not me. God has placed some people in your life to share the burden, but they are not God. They will let you down, not understand, tell you to work harder, suggest yoga, and tell you your sermon was good when it wasn’t. Listen to them and learn, but remember that the unmeasurable joy and indescribable sorrow, the persistent pleasure and acute pain, of this call is yours to bear alone...with God.
Finally, know that Tim is not a part of your congregation. You are not his pastor. Your family will see you at your best and your worst. They’ll know that most mornings you wake up paranoid about what will go wrong today. They’ll know about those passing moments when you dream of doing something else that doesn’t require you to love people you might not like. And they will know how much you care for people and want to help. Let your home be a retreat, not an annex of your church.
So stand firm on that forever word, stand firm and reach out to the fragile souls that God will put on your pastoral doorstep. Care for them, proclaim the living word, and share with them the Grace of God each time your hand dips in that bowl for some water and lifts the cup.
Oh, and one more thing: Don't mess up, but if you do, know that I got your back.