One of the purposes of sabbatical was to create for myself and my congregation a season of prayer in which we could discover the road ahead. I went into sabbatical asking God to give me and the rest of our congregation “words” that would direct our future.
As I have come back I have made it a point to meet with everyone of the DLT (Doing Life Together) groups around which are church is grounded. I have literally a whole room full of notes. The walls in our conference room are plastered with large post it sheets.
The staff and I have n’t had time to discern all of the common words that have been spoken but a few are very clear:
Fourteen people in our congregation heard the word “PREPARE”. Usually this word was coupled with the idea that there was trouble coming or something hard we needed to be ready to face. Over the course of the last week I have come to understand that this word needs to manifest in three ways. We must prepare physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“LOVE” was another word prominent in every group I met with. Interestingly the emphasis was never on God loving us. The word “LOVE” as it was spoken to the congregation is a word of action and the action is ours to perform. Further we are being called not just to love people within the church but to love all people in our community, especially those who think and believe very differently than we do.
Our world, even our church world, is struggling with the road ahead. love and preparation are twin struggles which must be engaged and figured out if we are to move forward. My church seems ready to engage ion the struggle.
When I came off of sabbatical I thought I had changed my life rhythm enough that I would be able to handle writing once a week. My plan was to do that on Sundays directly after church.
What I didn’t think about was that I had scheduled myself to hit the ground running as soon as I got back from sabbatical and so the old habits of rushing from one thing to another came rushing right back in on day one of my return to work.
The last two weekends I have double booked myself after church with events that kept me running right through Sunday evenings. By the end of said events I was practically comatose all the way through. Monday, my sort of day off.
So I have to make another plan, because my original plan of writing a whole week of material on Sundays will not work.
Enter the Atomic Habits.
This is a training I am having our church leadership work through over the next few weeks. The premise is that large change starts by making miniscule moves in the direction you want to go. So here I am working on plan B for this new writing journey. I am going to try starting with 5 or 10 minutes a day.
Let’s see if this works.
Is this what you do or do you have another method?
Dear Family, Since completing the class on Appreciative Living at Beals Memorial Library here in Winchendon. I have been fascinated by the concept of “journey living” versus “destination living”. Journey living is the idea that we have a destination in mind but we really live for the journey because we realize that each destination is just a temporary stopping point on a much larger journey.
This week the Vicarage project wrapped up and so we reached a destination of sorts and found ourselves ready to go home.
We packed our bags…literally our bags.
and started cleaning. It was at this point we realized our destination was not a completion but just the beginning of some new journey I think we will call the continual road to home improvement.
As we got back in and got set up…Thanks to Ray and Barry Parker for helping move the necessary furniture into place and The Bag End Beam DLT group for coming in to wash all the woodwork….we realized that there is much more to do. So first we sat and just enjoyed the newness of our home. Then, as I walked through our home I began to realize that much of our old stuff is going to need a new home. It does not fit with the new Vicarage.
I started unpacking our bags…again they are literally bags…. so as I went through it I began deciding that some of what was in those bags should just stay there and go directly to the dumpster. Other bags I began to empty. Those bags will be used for laundry and for filling with other stuff from other rooms that never made it into bags to go to The Annex with us.
The journey ahead promises to be just as long as the journey behind and I believe that the results will be just as fulfilling.
Dear Family, One thing ministry has taught me over the years is that there is never a perfect rhythm than meets this lifestyle and stays with it.
The song of my life and ministry does not and never has conformed to a standard beat. It keeps changing meter and speed and no two days are alike and no two days in any given week are alike.
Oh, there are standard big rocks which go in my schedule every week: Sunday morning church, Monday Men’s group, Tuesday Morning staff meeting, Wednesday senior staff meeting, but each of those big rocks is effected each week by all the different things that go on around it. Those other things are like the water that moves around and through the rocks.
Some days the big rocks are met by a trickle and the and the stream is happy, peaceful.
Other days those rocks are all but submerged in a torrent I can hardly keep ahead of. I suppose it is the same for everyone and my particular experience of life is simply in the context of ministry. But I do think that people looking from the outside in consider that somehow my experience as a pastor is different from theirs and that life for me is one long private prayer time.
The truth is I do get at least three hours a day in prayer as a general rule. But I have learned that the only way to do that is to make it a big rock and put it at the head waters of each days river. If I choose otherwise my rhythm become a wild dance that ends in a stumble.
I still stumble a lot. But I am learning more and more how to avoid it and for that I am very appreciative.
Dear Family, When I returned home from grocery shopping today the painters were back at The Vicarage to finish up the next phase of painting. By the time they left the kitchen was almost complete.
From these pictures it may not look like it, but walking into our kitchen now is like walking into a summer sky. It is so refreshing and relaxing.
The day was actually pretty busy for a holiday. I spent quite a bit of time at visitation. Two of our parishioners are walking in the “in-between”. One knows it is time to pass on to the other side and the other is waiting for further direction from the Lord as to whether to stay here or go on and be with The Father in Heaven.
Life for both of these ladies is like my kitchen. It is almost like walking into the sky but not quite.
I could never do the work the painters are doing on my house, but they are doing what they can to bring my Vicarage project to an end. I have to trust them to complete the work. These two wonderful ladies who have served God with their whole lives are coming near to the end of much more momentous projects than mine. But they, like me, are reliant upon Another to finish their projects for them.
My part of this walk is akin to what many of my friends are doing with me now as they come and see the progress of the work at The Vicarage. They pat me on the back, give me an encouraging word and tell me, “Soon and very soon.”
Walking with these ladies and their families as they approach the end of their time on this side of the glory veil is an honor beyond comparison in my eyes. As they prepare to walk into their own skyward journey I am humbled to walk even a part of it with them.
Dear Family, It strikes me that I have not spoken much about the incredible blessing that God has given us during this season of The Vicarage’s rehab. In the midst of all this work God has given us a miraculous provision of a house that meets absolutely every one of our needs. The Annex is a Victorian duplex located directly next door to The Vicarage! The only thing separating us from our house is the field which we own. I can literally see The Vicarage from there sun porch in my room which most of you will recognize as the place I am using to do my daily video devotion, Digging Deeper. The location was important to Mom who insisted she wasn’t going to leave the neighborhood. And it keeps me close to the project.
The place has four bedrooms and more importantly a comfortable couch because Mom will not sleep in a bed having not slept in one since my father died in 1990. It came completely furnished. We didn’t;t even need to bring dishes or a coffee maker!
The place has plenty of places to meet. Which is important because with Mom’s dementia being in an unfamiliar place means we are sticking at home. So I am working remotely as much as possible and we are staffing any amount of time longer than hour. The room below I use for those meetings which are more sensitive in nature.
It is right at the top of the blue stairs.
But I am also doing fellowship meeting in the kitchen.
And I am doing staff meetings at the conference/ dining table which seats 10.
Normally I would not be writing on Wednesday as it is one of the busier days in my week, but as yesterday was awash with work I did not have time to get to my posts for the day.
Yesterday was a constant pace through most of the daytime hours and by night my brain was mush and the rainy weather made me a candidate for Motrin therapy. I got a lot done for sure. The house got cleaned. Paperwork got done (well at least some of it…I am amazed at how much paperwork there is for a lead pastor to do and I am minimizing my paperwork compared to my predecessors). The weekly staff meeting was finished. Grocery shopping and library run was finished. I even had time to do my daily devotional for the church before I had to go off to a hospital visit.
I did not complete my prayer regimen yesterday, but today is another day and so I am getting off to a good start finishing up this work and a few other bits before my my senior staff meeting. I will also fit in at least 45 minutes of prayer before that meeting happens and then I have to go into the church to get a check signed for one of the two funerals I planned this week and then I need to get a court waiver filled out and sent for one of our widows who the church is helping with guardianship proceedings. All that will be accomplished before our prayer meeting tonight.
It is a season full of ministry. And I am learning that in all things…like Dory…I need to just keep swimming.
It has been a busy two weeks. We are now 21 days in The Vicarage Annex. We have gotten used to this place. It is wonderful. It is comfortable. I am so thankful to God for this place. It is everything we need. Except it is not home.
I am quickly realizing that what we are going through is more than a temporary change. We are being launched by this renovation into a new season. I guess I didn’t anticipate that. I thought we would get the necessary job done and we would go back to our same old patterns.
But I am now realizing that our old patterns will not fit into what we are going back too. We are changing. We will have changed and The Vicarage will be a new home for a new people.
I have heard from many of you since yesterday asking me how I am doing with the whole “asbestos thing”. Really I am fine. The asbestos in the upstairs bathroom is not even really dangerous to remove. It just can’t be torn up like normal linoleum, and it must be disposed of properly. It is just another delay. One thing I know is my times are in God’s hands. One thing I am learning is that I need to relax into that.
The Vicarage project is going to be perfectly in keeping with God’s timing and plan. While we are waiting on it life keeps on with ministry. Most of my meetings now are at The Vicarage Annex and I am finding that I am able to keep a pretty full schedule thanks to my assistant Carrie who is organizing my schedule so well.
Mom has not smoked a single cigarette since we moved to The Annex. So any lengthening of time here I realize might just be to cement this new habit. It all has a purpose and I am learning the joy in finding that purpose.
The blue flooring we have been walking on since I was 10 is apparently asbestos. So the contractors have a bit more to remediate than I originally thought…or hoped. Bringing things back to the studs seems to be a theme for the adventure of life these last few years.
Wendy, our church secretary, has likened the events in our church to exactly that (taking everything back to the studs). Now what we have spent the last few years doing in the spiritual we are doing in the natural at the Vicarage. Themes repeating themselves continually…..