What do you miss about congregational life, now that you are a bishop?
I have been asked this question only two or three times over the past year, but each time, it has stumped me. I haven't known how to answer the question - and yet, it has gnawed at my soul over time. Today, in the midst of this sweltering heat, on the way back from Immanuel Lutheran Church, in Meriden, CT, I had time to think through this question. So, what do I miss about being a parish pastor?
# 1 - Baptisms - I realized how much I enjoy conducting a baptism. Today, Pr. Chris McKinstry and his wife, invited me to baptize their son Liam. Chris wanted to be Dad for the baptism, as opposed to trying to merge pastor role and parent role. First, hats off to Chris for seeing through the clarity of role definition in his family. That's a sign of maturity, I admire. Second, thank you, thank you, thank you. What a joy to baptize your son! It brought me back into congregational life, and the ritual of being with people and communities of faith as they celebrate together. I have missed this aspect of my work now, and I thank you again for rekindling that joy in me.
# 2 - The Rhythm - There is a rhythm to the life of a parish pastor. It's more than the annual cycle of the church year, it's more than the week to week routine - in other words, I'm not referring to the tasks of ministry. No, I think what I miss is that sense that you are walking on a road of God's Grace, and that above all your calling is to be the wholly person in the community. Yes, I intentionally spelled it wholly, not holy. In the Anglican tradition, the priest was called the Parson. Somewhere in the origins of that word is a root that is related to being the Person. I've thought of this as the Parson is called to be a whole Person in the community.
Walking, driving, living, eating, playing in a community as the person charged to be the one who is called to be whole, to be the one whose job it is to be working on Self. Yes, I'm thinking both psychologically and spiritually here. I do not mean spending time naval gazing. Rather, I’m referring to the hard word of being a mature, whole, responsible child of God. I’m thinking of the calling to be faithful, trusting and hope filled, even while you are in the midst of the junk of life. Living a wholly calling while in the midst of complicated family dynamics, challenging demands of ministry, not to mention the unavoidable sin-disease that afflicts us all. I miss being that person/parson, both the burden and the opportunity for growth, as I walked in and out of people's lives.
While I'm continuing this work now as a bishop, it's different.
# 3 - The music at St. Andrew - I wasn't going to include this in my list, for fear it would be taken wrong. But, I promised myself when I started this blog that I’d be honest in my writings. I am not saying that there isn’t fine music in other congregations. What I am saying is that I miss what happens musically in my former parish during worship, coffee house concerts and youth and children events. For nearly twenty years, we invested in music more than any other single aspect of the congregations’ ministry. Over those years, the music had various expressions, ranging from praise music to gospel to Americana to blues to just plain rock and roll. (Remember, I grew up on Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, The Clash & Bruce Springsteen) Although I am not a musician, I’ve learned that music feeds my soul.
# 4 – The chance to connect with people who have not been a part of the faith, and walk with them as they discover what God means for them. I cannot tell you the joy it has given me to be with guys from AA, who are discovering that Jesus can be a part of their recovery. I also think of the unchurched families with young children who are struggling to figure out a way forward in a complex world. As they discover that being a part of a faith community can actually be a helpful resource- that makes my heart sing. Whether it was in congregations I served in Brooklyn, NY or in Charlestown, RI, connecting with people, call them ‘nones’ or ‘outsiders’ or ‘seekers’, was one of the most satisfying experiences of being a parish pastor.
Carey Nieuwhof has a fine blog post called 9 signs your church is ready to welcome. Good stuff, check it out. Click the link or the photo on the left to read the article.
Clarification: I am thoroughly enjoying my new calling as Bishop of the New England Synod. Please don't read into this any regrets. This article is simply some honest reflections on what I miss. Hey, can't you miss something, but still like where you are? Do you miss your kids when they move out, but still like your home.
My friend, Bishop Jeff Barrow of the Milwaukee Synod, recently said, “If you don’t miss parish ministry as a bishop, then you’ve got no business being a bishop.” I think he’s right. The ultimate, the highest calling is to be a parish pastor. The rest of us should be your servants, and your cheerleaders – that’s my new role. I admire what the pastor of the local church does, and a part of me is a little jealous of what you get to do each week.