9 August 2018
Make no mistake about it, I love what I do…. and especially, with whom I do it! It is my calling, affirmed more times than I can recall over these 43, beginning 44 years, since mid-1974. I was not called by God to be a “church bureaucrat,” nor was I called to be an Evangelist-at-large. In the Father’s heart all along has been the intention, underwritten with significant gifts, that I should be shepherd among the fold, a servant leader in the household of the Kingdom. I’ve tried, to the best of my abilities, to be faithful to that calling, and to see life the way He sees it, and live into that vision. It is, to say the least, a challenge – at times! It is a wonderfully fulfilling and good vocation, and I am grateful to be counted among the dishwashers of the Kingdom.
Within the last hour of beginning to write these notes to you, I had a long-distance phone conversation with a man whom I’ve known a long time, and served with for a number of years as the Youth Director in the congregation to which I was appointed. He has held several of that kind of role in the years since, and he was calling to ask if perhaps he’d somehow “missed” his calling. He has significant gifts in other aspects of life, a loving wife and teenagers, and he was just wondering God might have in mind for him, now. His real love and gifts seem to be in the arena of Media and Communications, and I suggested that perhaps he might be in a ministry to enable small congregations to be in better contact with their members…. newsletters, reminders, web-pages, policies about Facebook, etc. He seemed genuinely interested, and promised to “give it a look,” along with prayerful consideration and openness. I hope I helped.
About 10 minutes before he called, I’d spent time on the phone with a woman whose husband of a great many years had passed into Glory only a few days ago. As you might imagine, she’s heartbroken, and trying to see where the next days, weeks, and months of her now-solo life will take her. I’ll go by to see her Thursday morning, and take along your condolences, prayers, and concerns, and help her know that she’s not alone in this difficult passage “through the Valley of the Shadow….” Even here, even now, our Father is present, and sometimes it looks and feels for all the world like her congregation.
I spent a good portion of this Wednesday morning parceling most of the weeks of the coming fall-season into bits and pieces, as I scheduled – tentatively – a range of meetings and conversations, from the Committee on Lay Leadership (aka, Nominations), to Church Security, to a new Worship Planning Team, and even to the “run of the mill” things like the Council on Ministries, Administrative Board, Trustees, and Staff-Parish Relations Committee. I’ve answered e-mails, Instant Message texts, and a number of person-to-person conversations, and then had lunch with my wife in the “high glamour” setting of Subway, here in Poquoson!
The aspect of ministry which I find most appealing may well be that one week, one day, and even one of the three phases of each day (i.e., Morning/Afternoon/Evening) is hardly ever like another. Now I know that some cherish, even thrive in, a regular, trustworthy, “clock-work” world, where you rise from sleep at the same time, have the same thing for breakfast daily, start work, take a lunch break, and end the day’s activities on a dependable, orderly, routine. There’s a lot less to worry about in that world, it seems to me! The self-starter approach, always considering “What’s next?” is not for everyone; and that’s okay, because the routine, clock-work and evenly-ordered life is not for them, either! Their creative energies and “juices” are not called forth, let alone fed if every “next moment” is already prescribed.
While I was in seminary in the late 1970’s, one of my professors took us on a morning’s field trip to the Arrow Shirt Company, based in Atlanta. We were shown through the working areas where men and women assembled high quality shirts from the 100’s of dozens of components they were given. If they met or exceeded their hourly/daily quotas, or had remarkably few mistakes, they were rewarded with bonuses to their income…. or sometimes, a promotion/reward/bonus. Personally, I found it mind-numbing to consider doing the same movement across a sewing machine, or a shirt collar assembly station, or even putting new shirts in bags, from early morning until late in the afternoon! They were not allowed to have radios at their work-stations (“It distracts them!” their supervisor said.). Nor were they allowed to have family photos, or even their names displayed on the machinery they used, some of them for decades…. for the same rationale. [As an aside, I remember that a woman in the congregation I served as pastor, some 50+ miles away, retired after 45 years loyal service. Her retirement “gift” was the machine with which she had produced a great many garments over the years. While I thought it a bit curious, she was enamored with it, and put the industrial sewing machine in her living room to continue to make gifts for her children, grandchildren, husband, and family! This great, green implement was a source of great pride for her, and it continued to give her a sense of honor, joy, and accomplishment long after she’d stopped her work-life.]
Perhaps the issue that I’m trying to speak to is that of the “comfort zone.” We all have them, in one form or another. For some, it’s proximity to home and family; for others, the comfort zone is the arena in which there is some control over life and activity, and its predictability and order. For others, their comfort zone is a starting point – or line, if you will – from which life proceeds, and to which it returns when the time comes for re-fresh-ment and re-new-al. From their comfort zone outward, life is all a great adventure!
Sometimes, I think we could all acknowledge that we need those comfort zones – calling them a “prayer closet,” or sanctuary, or a retreat center, if you will. It’s where we don’t have to meet up to anyone else’s standards or expectations… and know that we’re accepted, even still, by the One Who Loves Us, irreducibly. But there’s always the danger that they become “too comfortable,” if that possible!
I find Jesus’ invitation to Simon to step out of the boat to be one of those moments! I’m not sure I could have done it; I’d like to think I would, but I’ve seen too many things fall from the gunwales of boats – and sink irretrievably into the murky depths! And as soon as our friend, Simon, remembered that, he, too, began the downward descent…. just like the knives he had lost, the oars that had slipped overboard, and the trash that they had cast out occasionally.
But that’s what Jesus does…. even to us, today. He asks us to step out of the boat, set aside – at least for the moment – our fears and memories, and keep focused on Him, as He stood there with hand outstretched in our direction. It may look like lighting the candles at the beginning of worship, or keeping the focus of a double handful of children for an hour, or welcoming a stranger and inviting them to sit alongside you in worship. Stepping out of your comfort zone may seem like helping with the Common Ground Café event some Friday night, helping the gathered youths experience how a genuine Christian looks/sounds/acts. It may be serving as a Lay Reader, a Communion preparation helper for the 8:45 AM Blended Service, or inviting a friend to “come and see” what our church’s life and ministry is all about.
No matter if your lifestyle preference is that of Order and Regularity, or if it’s about Exploration and Adventure, there is a role to play in our congregation….. and if you’re waiting for an invitation, this is your moment! YOU ARE INVITED TO USE YOUR GIFTS, GREAT OR GREATER, TO THE BUILDING UP OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN POQUOSON! NOW! (How’s that for subtle?!?). Tell me, call me, write me, text me, put a note on my door, or convey to someone else that you’re “ready, willing, and available” for God to use you in ministry.
Give it a try! You’ll be pleasantly surprised and encouraged at the response you receive!
Grace and peace.
Jim Earley, Sr. Pastor
Tabernacle UMC, Poquoson, VA
Responses? Send me a card, give me a call, or make smoke signals…. or best of all, talk with me at Worship on this coming Sunday!
TABERNACLE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 831 POQUOSON AVE, POQUOSON, Virginia 23662-1723, United States