Pastor’s Letter, July 2014
Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13:52)
I am back to being a pastor again. Not that I didn’t try during our 9 week journey of Home Assignment, but for the most part I simply felt dislocated. Don’t get me wrong: we had an amazing time, and we remain so grateful to the church, to friends and family, and to our supporting congregations who made our travels possible.
Images from our trip still play in my head: the inside of a converted bus on a Minnesota farm, night-time thunderstorms outside, the kids passed out after running hard with their cousins; our campsite at City of Rocks in Idaho, Ursula scrambling up the rock, Esme, laughing one moment and then shrieking as we picked cactus spines from her little hand; the Columbia River Gorge State Park on the Washington side with its field of green grass, stately trees and clear cold water, perfect for a swim; the familiar drive into Plains, MT, past Paradise, toward the little church where a congregation began teaching me to be a pastor; St. John the Divine, the cathedral on Amsterdam and 111th, hung with Xu Bing’s Phoenix, massive, stunning; Weller Inn, our Lake-cottage-extended-family-gathering-place since 1921, its kitchen resounding in sung grace — For health and strength and daily food, we praise your name, O Lord — before 58 relatives load up their dinner plates; and congregation after congregation welcoming us with smiles, questions, prayers.
That’s just a smattering; no wonder those 9 weeks were a time of dislocation. The longest we stayed in any one spot was 6 nights, often it was 2 or 3. For at least three weeks, we slept in our tent, whether in a yard or a campground, a pretense at stability for Ursula and Esme who deserve accolades for how well they did with so much change.
I did the work of a pastor over those 9 weeks: I studied the lectionary texts each week, and preached to a new congregation (or two) every Sunday. I told stories of our global mission life and work over fellowship hall potlucks and mid-week coffee. I listened to people share their grief, their hope.
Yet something about being back in Bratislava allows me to feel I am a pastor again.
Maybe it is simply that I can now reconnect, face-to-face, with the communities for whom I have responsibility: The Bratislava International Church, down to its bare bones this time of year, but still full of people, who are treasure, new and old. And the Young Adults in Global Mission, new and old. This week, I am writing to the 7 (new) who will come in August, even as we are preparing for next week’s Sending Retreat for the 4 (old) at the end of their service commitment.
Maybe it is that our life has been so wide lately. Too wide to know what or who I am. In 3 months, we covered more breadth of miles than many human beings cover in their lives. Dipping into this congregation and then another, into one friend’s life and then another’s, quickly. Getting only a taste.
Others live lives less wide, more deep. Their feet are firmly planted on one piece of ground; they have known a town, its valleys and vertical relief, its people and joys and sorrows, through so many cycles of seasons they no longer count by years.
Deep or wide: How do you live? Of course, this is a false dichotomy; our lives are more complex than deep or wide. Still, it seems that there is a difference between 1) the people we know, young and old – who have committed to a place, a job, a house, that tethers them, drawing them always deeper into one set of coordinates on the earth, one mysterious particularity in God’s kingdom; and 2) ourselves, and other vagabonds — if we live anywhere over 5 years, it would be a minor miracle. We travelers live wide, with loved ones here and there, passions here and there, always ready to buy a ticket or jump in the car, see something new or old in the broad spread of geography, “home” in the past or maybe “home” in the future.
I think of pastors too. The deep ones, who lived most of their pastoral lives in one place. At New Hanover Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gilberstville, PA, the Rev. John J. Kline began his pastorate in 1886 and continued till 1945. Goodness gracious. I cannot begin to comprehend how deeply he knew that assembly, through baptisms, marriages, funerals, and Sunday morning after Sunday morning.
There are the wide pastors too. Pastors who served the church in multiple roles and places – as parish and interim pastors, chaplains, teachers, spiritual directors. On a drive with my father to Dr. Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran Church in Muskegon, MI, I heard more stories from the life of my grandfather, the Rev. Reuben Schmidt, a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor. For multiple years, he served the District Office in St. Louis, in charge of “special” and minority community ministries. He traveled to different congregations every Sunday, guest preaching and providing leadership, support, and vision to the local pastors.
We, who know that our lives will be more wide than deep, do well to soak our feet, our bodies, deeply in the particular waters of a place when we have a few months or years. Dig deeply for the treasure hidden in this particular field. The treasure of the baptized is always and finally Christ, but his body and Spirit are manifest in unique ways in the wide expanse of this earth. We taste and drink deeply only where we are, here. We taste and drink differently when we stay awhile.