I am sitting on the front porch this morning after reading for an hour or so and feeling the need to contemplate many things in life this morning. I have been thinking about family, marriage, children, the challenges of step-parenting, the role of pastor, ministry today, Annual Conference, Ordination, recovery from surgery, the start of PT, summer and the need for renewal.
There is a fresh breeze blowing this morning after a couple of extremely hot days and it feels good to enjoy the breeze. Just as the breeze coming across the porch brings fresh air and cooler temperatures I am reminded that the wind of the Spirit brings fresh ideas and thoughts when I spend some time with God and contemplate what He is doing in my life and the world around me.
I have been thinking a lot about Annual Conference as we prepare to head to Grove City next week and at one point I was wondering if I would be able to go as I recover from shoulder surgery and have found it much more difficult than I anticipated. I was expecting a few days off and to be back in the saddle and running and now almost three weeks after surgery I am still not allowed to drive and starting PT today with what I now think might be a painful experience. It has made me slow down and given me a lot of time to think and reflect on what is going on in my life. Annual Conference has always been an important time to me to reconnect with friends and colleagues from across western PA and beyond and the idea of not being able to go brought out mixed emotions in me that I didn’t expect. While I look forward to seeing friends and colleagues I don’t find myself the least bit interested in most of what else goes on during those days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the worship with 2000 people and the sense of once a year being connected to my United Methodist brothers and sisters in Christ in Western PA but really wonder if time and resources we spend there is good fiscal and time stewardship today.
This morning I have been thinking a lot about ordination. My first experience with ordination goes back to the 1970s when Walt Hehman, my pastor at the time, was ordained and we took a bus load to support him at one of the churches in Pittsburgh. I still have pictures of that day and remember the sense of God’s Spirit in that sacred place and time. Over the years we have moved from the multiple ordination services to one at AC and from the chapel to the large meeting space. When I was commissioned in 2004 the service was on Saturday night and my family and friends came, but I was in a new appointment and the fact that it was at Annual Conference and Grove City College I think made people from the churches feel it was not important to be there. I distinctly remember during the communion service my station being at the back of the hall and if my family and friends had not come back there would have been no one to serve because there were so few people there. Now we require the clergy to be there so there is a large crowd but still limited participation from the laity. Is it time we ask the question “Is this the right place to hold ordination?” We spend an extra day at Annual Conference, at least those that are required to be there, most of the laity still go home, and while I am still touched by the service I really wonder if that is where it belongs. What would happen if we took it back to multiple locations, maybe three, and encouraged or even required clergy from the area to be there, would we get more participation from the laity that matter most to our ordinands? I wonder how many feel that same sense of the sacred place that I felt at Walt’s ordination.
I am thinking about those that are retiring after a lifetime of service to God, the church and the Western PA Conference and the need to move from having a retirement service to giving them a few minutes to share a reflection to save time for what? Maybe there should be a retirement banquet that family and friends were invited to that would celebrate this momentous occasion in the life of those that have given their life for the church. While it would not likely draw thousands, would it draw those most important to those whose life is being celebrated?
I guess what I am really contemplating is what needs to change to meet the needs of Christ’s church today? I know that for some I am stepping on holy ground! Sometimes I wish the Holy Spirit would just allow me to be a follower and go with the flow but that has never been where I felt lead.
I am contemplating my personal journey as well. The truth is today I am tired and would like to rest but there is a disruptive Spirit moving in me that says that I need to continue to reflect on how God is working in my life in this season and what is God calling me to change as well. When I think of the changes that have occurred in my life over the last three years I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving and a sense of awe while wondering where it is all leading. Three years ago at Annual Conference I met Kerry, my now beautiful bride; just going to show that something good can come out of Annual Conference. Two years ago I moved on June 30th to Cambridge Springs and on July 10th Kerry and I were married so we could start our life together here in a new home. It also meant that I had two teenagers in the house again including a teenage girl for the first time in my life. You talk about the stress inventories. I think I had them all!
The move here to Cambridge Springs has been a tremendous blessing to all of us. The kids have settled into a new school and are doing very well inside the classroom, in athletics and with new friends. Neither of the two churches I serve have a history of being pastor centered so they both have wonderful ministries that go on and allow me time to connect to the community. It has also made it more difficult to get them to look at new ways of doing things and I am learning to go about ministry in different ways. It is hard to believe how social media has impacted my ministry here and the role it is playing in ministry to the community. I would be content to retire from this place of ministry as I see God work in and through His people here.
I have never been afraid to try something new and risk it failing, at least in the eyes of some. I am finding that traditional ways of doing ministry just simply don’t work anymore. I am struggling to discover what those changes are that God is calling me to make in order to serve Him and to make and grow disciples for Jesus Christ. I know that I need to make changes, but sometimes that is hard when you have been doing something for so long. As I look for new ways to preach, teach and disciple I find many that still want the old ways to work, and age has nothing to do with who wants that, and there is a fear about what making changes will mean for us. I am finding that younger generations don’t put the same value on face to face contact, want most things to be personalized for them, and I don’t know how to be most effective while meeting the needs of a diverse community.
Now ending my second year of marriage and being a stepfather has opened my eyes to a whole new world that is out there that the church has often ignored or made to feel unwelcome. As I have read and attended seminars on step-families I find that we are not prepared to meet the needs or understand what happens when the nuclear family is broken by death or divorce. I have had my eyes opened in ways I never imagined as I learn to build new relationships with people that I am now related to and responsible for and the unique challenges that presents. I am blessed by a wife that is willing to learn on this journey with me and we are growing in so many ways. Some statistics say that 85% of those under 18 today will be a part of a stepfamily in their lifetime. At the same time only about 5% of those in our pews is a part of a stepfamily. I am spending a lot of time thinking about what that means and what I can do to change both of those situations.
As I sit here recovering from surgery two years after an accident I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on what is important. God continues to amaze me in the blessings I experience each day while at the same time realizing that my body isn’t what it used to be. I heal slower and seem to add a new doctor each year. Some parts don’t work like they used to and some hurt far more than they used to. I find it harder to lose weight each year and finding time to get the necessary exercise gets harder and harder. I have also learned when I get that exercise and eat right I feel better and some of those parts work better. Finding the balance between ministry work and personal needs is always a challenge as it is for everyone. While I try and practice what I preach, at times it is very difficult to live a healthy lifestyle. I am looking at my life and asking what I need to change and what the costs of those changes are likely to be.
This afternoon as I start physical therapy to restore my shoulder I anticipate there will be a certain amount of pain I will have to go through in order to rebuild my shoulder and it will be up to me how long that will take. While I can’t rush the process I also can’t get lazy and be afraid to work through the pain to get where I want to be. Isn’t that true of so much of life?
God is doing a work in me right now. I am praying each day that I will receive a little more insight in to His ways and feel the Spirit moving in me an stirring my spirit so that I continue to grow in my faith and relationship with Him. I thank God for this time of contemplation and while I am not sure where it will lead or if anyone will be touched through me I will continue to seek to serve Him with all that I am and all that I have.