They say: “Time flies when you’re having fun!”
I’m not quite sure who “they” is, but I think they have at least a partial point. Time does fly when you’re having fun.
Time also flies when you’re excited. Time also flies when you’re busy. Time also flies when you’re involved. Time also flies when you’re learning to swim without the aid of a flotation device.
January 1st marked more than just the beginning of a new year. It also marked my six month anniversary serving St. Giles Presbyterian Church, walking alongside the congregation in their ministries. It was an anniversary I didn’t even notice until at least five days later, what with all the end-of-the-holiday, beginning-of-a-new-year, “catch up” items on my overflowing to do list. It was an anniversary that nearly slid silently by without any commemoration or reflection.
Surely, after six months of full-time service to the church, I’d have something to share. Surely there have been lessons learned, and insights gathered, and witty moments, and humbling oversights.
After all, the past six months have brought with it some significant change.
After three years of serving as a youth leader with a congregation in Richmond, I gave handshakes and hugs, I said my goodbyes, and I left the church parking lot with lots of memories and a very full heart.
After four years of Megan and I living in a small seminary apartment – our entire married life to that point! – we packed up everything we owned into a Penske truck, and hit the road for South Carolina. (Actually, that’s not entirely true. Megan did most of the packing herself. My first few weeks at St. Giles, I lived in a hotel and commuted on my days off to and from Richmond. If I never see that stretch of I-85 again, I’ll be okay with it.)
After years of rental living, Megan and I became homeowners. As a matter of fact, today marks the six month anniversary of homeownership. Coincidentally, it also marks six months of no longer having a 24/7 maintenance crew just a phone call away.
After four years of seminary education, and many more years of preparation for and the discerning of a vocational call to ministry, I rolled up my sleeves, stepped into the waters, and began a new phase of the journey: full-time ministry.
Yes, the past six months have brought with it some significant change. It’s the perfect time to look back in reflection.
So I added “Write a Six Month in Review Post” to the aforementioned overflowing to-do list.
It’s now January 23rd. If I wait another week or so, I could simply rename this post “Seven Months In Review” and no one would be the wiser.
What can I say: time flies when you’re having fun.
So what have I learned in six months’ time? What might I have already known or have already heard about in seminary, but am now getting to realize in real time? What are some of my cherished memories of my first six months here?
I discovered what being “A Welcoming Congregation” means.
One of the things I laughed about during my search for a call was how every church's Ministry Information Form (MIF) – basically, a congregation’s application and position description for a minister – mentioned that they were "a welcoming congregation.” Seriously... every. single. one. Sometimes, my interactions with search committees led me to believe they weren't always being very honest, or at least they had some significant blind spots to work out.
St. Giles was different. I immediately felt the congregation living into that statement, in big and in small ways, not just during the search process, but also once I was on the ground here.
On my first day, members were encouraged to stop by the office to welcome me. Several times on July 1st, and even into July 2nd, there were moments when there was literally a line forming outside my office door with folks seeking to greet me and welcome me to St. Giles.
On move-in day – six months ago today – “a few St. Giles saints” stopped by the house to help unload the trucks. That afternoon, I learned that “a few” actually means “twenty-six” in St. Giles’ vocabulary. What an incredible welcome.
I discovered the importance of Sabbath rest.
Those who have known me for some time would probably say I sometimes – most times? – have a habit of working long hours and forgetting to rest. Megan discovered this more fully during my seminary years, as she learned to fall asleep to the sound my voice practicing my Hebrew vocalizations… until 4:00am.
That tendency hasn’t really stopped even now that I’m out of academic mode. I mean the 'forgetting to rest' part... not the vocalizations. I gave that up long ago.
Our scriptures include lots of examples of Sabbath rest, from the very beginning of the book. In a world of over-commitment and of burnout and of exhaustion and of competitiveness, we teach and preach and pray that our members and their families might experience restorative and renewing rest. All too often, we're just poor at embodying what it is we’re preaching.
Ministry can be demanding. Weeks range from 40-50 hours to 80-90 hours. The "dinner hour" - were there such a thing - ranges from 5pm to 11pm. What I’ve started to discover already – and it’s something more seasoned pastors and professors have already known – is that my creativity, accessibility, openness, and committed presence are all negatively impacted when my soul isn't being nurtured and when I'm running on empty. I can’t serve well in any capacity if I’m operating on fumes, and surely it doesn’t bring glory to God.
I discovered the overwhelming beauty and joy of ordination.
I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament September 28th at my home church in Gettysburg, PA. While many new pastors are ordained in their first church by their presbytery of call, I chose instead to be ordained in my home church, in recognition of the countless ways that congregation lived into its baptismal promises as it nurtured me in faith. What a celebration.
Choosing my ordination commission – those who would officially stand beside me as I was ordained – was incredibly easy for me, as there are so many in central PA who have walked with me on the journey. Some I’ve known for just a short time, while others, I’ve known virtually my entire life. Long-term mentors who I’m now proud to serve as a colleague in ministry; a next door neighbor and high school classmate; a pastor who sat next to me during the denomination’s General Assembly in 2012; my father – one of the most dedicated servants of the church I’ve ever known. What a memory.
I also discovered the overwhelming feeling of gratitude in presiding over Communion for the first time, on World Communion Sunday. Praying the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving; breaking bread and pouring juice (some of which went into the chalice but most of which landed all over the table); looking folks in the eye, calling them by name, and proclaiming the promises found in partaking in “The Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation;” these are memories I will carry with me for a lifetime… memories for which words cannot do justice. What an experience.
I discovered that “God Sightings” often come in the moments we least expect.
One of the things that pastoral leaders often lament when beginning in full-time ministry is that ministry is no longer refreshing or surprising for them when they’re working to plan it in advance each week. #truth.
I already knew that “God Sightings” come at unexpected times and in unexpected places. But I’ve discovered it anew in the past six months.
I’ve seen God in casual conversations with youth in the car on the way to retreats.
I've seen God in little gifts left on my desk by parishioners: a beautiful glass cross with a note welcoming me to St. GIles; a giant tub of mints in light of my reputation as being the Mint Guy; a red toy truck with a note that refers to a story I told in a sermon the previous Sunday.
I’ve seen God in the ways preschoolers end up teaching me more about God during chapel than I could possibly think to teach them.
I’ve seen God when I sit in my office and can hear our organist practicing a hymn I haven’t heard in ages, as I open my hymnal at my desk and discover how its words speak to me in an important way that day.
I’ve seen God in the conversations during staff meetings and in the deliberations of presbytery meetings.
I discovered that ministry can be frustrating and even overwhelming at times.
There are days that I realize how difficult ministry can be for Type-A people who keep to-do lists and make plans in advance. Usually, those are the days I haven’t yet started on what I intended to do that day until 6:00pm. But almost always, I come around to realize that it’s the things I do between the items on the to-do list – be it a visit to a hospital waiting room or a spontaneous prayer session with a parishioner – that are truly ministry.
There are moments when I think to myself that this is not at all what I had in mind when I signed up for this whole ministry thing. Usually, those are the moments that I'm adding a new role to my work or organizing Sunday School curriculum by the date they were last used. But almost always, I’m able to remind myself that what I’ve actually signed up for and committed my life to comes with no other agenda beyond serving God, following Jesus, and being guided by the Spirit.
There are times when I think “I can’t do this” or “I don’t have it all together” or “this will all fall apart if I don’t have it perfect.” Usually, those are the times that I feel least prepared or least competent. But almost always, I’m able to eventually remind myself that it's okay… that I don’t need to have it all together… that I don’t need to have it perfect… because it’s not mine to have together in the first place, and God will provide. God is good. All the time. And that includes even the times – and especially the times – when I’m running on fumes and without a plan.
There are other things I've learned of course:
I give thanks to God for each of these things I've learned. I give thanks to God for each reminder that I have so much left to learn. I give thanks to God that I don't need to have it 'all together,' even if I want to. And most of all, I give thanks to God for this journey I'm on... that I'm not on it alone.
I'm a husband, a father, a news junkie, a theatre enthusiast, an amateur foodie, a wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
This blog is maintained personally by me and does not necessarily represent the views of any congregation I have served. Every effort is made to give proper attribution for quotations, images, and other media used on this page.