Sunday, August 26, 2007

Missing Church

On Saturday I visited St. Lukes United Methodist Church, Lubbock, Texas. I stood in the sanctuary. I stood in the sanctuary, like many other sanctuaries built in the 1970’s with is wooden curved pews and comfortable cushions, its rich new carpet and hardwood altar. It smelled clean, like polished wood and candles and had the feel of three decades of prayer soaked into its beams. There was a giant cross and a choir loft off to one side that seems to be waiting for the resonating sound of the baby grand piano to strike a worshipful chord. The rich, dark wood pulpit with etched cross stood on the left with the communion table centered against the wall under the cross. I could not bring myself to climb the six or seven steps up to the chancel area and look out over the congregational seating feeling that its pull may overwhelm me. I sat in the third row and just listened to the stillness of the worship space that would fill with worshippers less than twenty four hours from then. I sat there a few moments until I saw something drop upon the legs of my slacks and realized it was tears from my eyes. Then I felt the hot tears streaming down my face as I sat there waiting upon my host to do some last minute tasks to prepare to lead music the following morning. I got up and went out into the foyer to insure that he did not see me in such a state. I stood there looking out the front door at the weathered parking lot and tried to get myself back together.

I sat down this morning and tried to figure out why I had that response to being in a church. I have been in dozens of churches in the past three years since I left the pulpit to work at Lake Junaluska. There was something familiar about the place, something about the way it looked and smelled that triggered some powerful pastoral memories. Whether it was the look of Trinity UMC in New Bern or how it smelled like the sanctuary at Trinity UMC in Fayetteville or just how it felt to be in a church that really felt like a church again? I am not sure. So, I made a list of what I miss, and don’t miss about pasturing a local church.

Things I don’t miss:
• Contentious church members.
• Endless meetings.
• Charge conference forms.
• Colleagues with a competitive mindset about ministry, always comparing worship attendance and offering numbers.
• Proofreading bulletins.
• Vacation interruptions.
• Budget meetings.
• Tax headaches.
• Hospital visits at 2 a.m.
• Temperamental music leaders and staff conflict.

Things I miss:
• Knee hugs from children on Sunday.
• The smell of fresh flowers in the sanctuary.
• The taste of communion bread soaked in grape juice.
• Rehearsing and rewriting my sermon in an empty sanctuary on Friday or Saturday afternoons.
• Doing funerals for the saints of the church.
• The smell of infants on the morning of their baptism.
• The hugs of new members who found a church that they can feel loved and accepted in.
• Reading Christmas stories to pajama clad children before Christmas Eve worship.
• Good Friday worship ending in darkness and bolting the door.
• Weekly Eucharist and holding the loaf up and breaking it.
• The rhythm of the church year.
• The pressure to write a better sermon this week than last week, fifty-two times a year.
• Writing sermons in coffee houses and asking myself at the end of all the work, “so what?”

My call is here, now. So here I will serve until Christ leads me to another place. Until then I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

God, who makes the rough path smooth, and the winding path straight, grant me the ability to be fully present in the ministry I am living out right now. Show me what you would have me to do and be and keep me from vain ambition or change for the sake of change. Light my path with the light of the One who knows the way, Jesus. In whose name I pray. Amen.

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