Friday, July 01, 2011

The 7th Inning Stretch

Today begins my seventh year as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. The last six years have included some of the most difficult moments of my life, including many days when I was convinced that I was being called to do anything but pastor this congregation. The last six years have also included countless moments when all I could do was ponder how I cannot believe that I get paid to be a pastor because many days are paved with more blessings than I can count.

I have had five offices in the last six years including three in the historic building, one in a single-wide trailer on the front lawn, and one in a trophy office building.

I have said good-bye to many beautiful people who made great sacrifices to make sure that Mount Vernon Place would be poised to welcome new people long after they were gone. Mabel, Louie, Dorine, Gilbert, and many others come to mind on this day. I continue to believe that leading one to their final resting place is a privilege that none of us are worthy of.

I have had my heart broken when the life of a peer ended tragically and much too soon. Tracy, your story will always shape and form my ministry and our congregation.

I have had the joy of baptizing babies and adults while also leading more than 60 people in the new member vows. Welcoming people into the community of faith is one of the best parts of my job.

I have gained extensive expertise in the real estate development world that could likely never be gained from any other appointment. I know what I would have done again and what changes I would make if we were to do it over again. I also learned and passionately believe that a church does not need a building to be the body of Christ. There was great freedom that came when we only had a trailer during the week and borrowed space for Sunday worship. And still, I cannot see our building without seeing it as a huge gift from God. We could not have sold our property at a better time, and I am reminded of this timing daily.

We have watched some ministries be pruned, others die, and others emerge from the ground. I am a strong advocate for pruning. Churches cannot continue to have ministries that are leading to decay instead of life, all the while zapping valuable resources.

I have started some days by praying Psalm 56, "Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me." Other mornings have commenced with Psalm 116, "I love the Lord, because God has heart my voice and my supplications."

I have gained a voice that speaks often for those who are not yet fully included in our denomination. I am grateful to pastor a congregation that is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network and pray that God will never allow me to shy away from working for justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters. I long for the day when I can marry all members of my congregation and when I can faithfully cultivate calls to ministry within all gifted members without fear of one having to stand in the closet if they are to be ordained in our denomination.

I have learned that being a pastor is very hard work and that change is rarely easy. I have heard countless words of painful criticism aimed at me and also have enough notes in a file folder labeled, "Happy" to sustain an entire day of reading.

I have learned that everyone needs holy friends in ministry - people who are not afraid to name the gifts you have failed to claim while also naming the sins you have grown to love. Two Baptist colleagues, Amy and Jim, held my hand through my first year and kept me going when I wanted to quit. People at the Fund for Theological Education often gave me a place to share my story which reminded me that God was doing something even when I could not see it. Classmates and teachers at Wesley Theological Seminary gave me a greater place to reflect as I finished my Doctor of Ministry degree. The people of my first appointment have constantly encouraged me and reminded me that I am a pastor even when the folks at MVP did not want me to be their pastor. Our bishop has showed up often at just the right time and was always there especially during the first couple of years which were filled with more tears than laughs.

It's time to stretch. It's time to sing. It's time to be filled with joy. It's time to get a box of Cracker Jacks. We're winning! We're ahead! We have had a few home runs. But, the game is not over.

It's also time to get back to work - to buckle down, to pray, to work tirelessly until countless others know the gift of this congregation - this place at the corner of 9th and Mass. and the wondrous blessing of One who is Emmanuel - God with us at all times and in all places. We serve a God who is constantly transforming us - leading us from places of darkness and into the light, from places close to death to places filled with possibility.

Thank you, Mount Vernon Place, for six wondrous years. I cannot wait to see what the future holds with you!

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