Archive for September 2016

The Strange Place Called “Retired Pastor”

September 5, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       September 5, 2016

 

My life has been filled with transitions, as has yours! Transitioning from diapers to diaper-less, going from crawling to walking, from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary to junior high. There was transitioning from not shaving to imagined shaving (Thinking I saw a hair on my chin and needed to shave!) to shaving; and going from dating Carol to being seriously in love with Carol to marrying Carol.

You get the idea! Life is transitory in nature! We have to continually adjust to changes around us and in us.

Eight months ago I retired as a church pastor after thirty-six and a half years in the ministry. I was ready! I had lost my edge! I was tired of the drama, the weekly tasks, and even the distance that the position was creating between my Creator and myself. So I announced almost three months in advance that I was retiring at the end of December.

Retirement has come with its benefits. Carol says that I am a more relaxed now, perhaps easier to live with. I’m home evenings. We are able to share more dinners together than apart. I’ve had more time to read and write. The lawn looks better! There has been more nights when I’ve been able to sit on the couch with the grandkids watching TV like a kid. (Carol was more amused at me the other night as I sat there watching Shrek 2 with them. I laughed like a kid, because in those moments I was!)

But retirement has also come with its challenges. Being a retired pastor is a strange place to be in. For sixty percent of my life I had been an actively employed pastor. It had become as natural to me as throwing right-handed. Transitioning from that has been one of the hardest changes in my life.

Why is that? Because a pastor is relationally wired. Pastoring is not like a faucet that you can turn on and off at a turn of the wrist. Right now two people who are dear to me are dealing with illnesses that are most likely terminal. Not being their pastor any longer puts me in that strange place of trying to be redefined. Who am I now? A friend? I’m okay with that, but who am I to them? They still refer to be as Pastor Bill.

As pastors we have a Code of Ethics that we commit to follow. Much of it is written with the understanding that it is difficult for people to see someone who has been their pastor as now being their former pastor. Therefore the former pastor needs to keep that distance from those he/she has been the pastor to. It has wisdom in it. If the former pastor still keeps popping up those he pastored will keep reinserting him into his former role. If a church was like a car transmission it would be a car with transmission trouble, having trouble shifting from one gear to another. For the congregation there would be great difficulty in being able to shift from one pastor to the next.

My son-in-law has encountered some similar dynamics in his dental practice. He and my daughter bought the practice from a retiring dentist last fall. Several times he has encountered those words: “Dr. So-and-So didn’t do it that way!”

It is hard for people to transition from one trusted professional to the next. Dentists, doctors, barbers, and especially pastors. The pastor has been there for the crises, the deaths and the births. He has been the confidant and the encourager.

And now he is retired!

This strange new place I’m in has been populated with new adventures, but also deeply-rooted problems that I’ve stubbed my toe on. As time has gone on, and as my former church has gotten closer to calling the next person to come and be the pastor, I’ve become more distant from those I used to pastor. That isn’t a good thing, but a necessary thing.

The small church, a forty-five minute drive away from town, has become my unofficial “pastoring outlet.” I get to preach, pray for, and offer encouragement like I had been doing. I’m like an old dog who gets taken out to the woods and allowed to run around a bit to keep me moving.

As I figure out this new place I’m in there will be moments of celebration and times of depression. I look behind me at the years of footprints and look ahead at a different terrain that requires a change in footwear.

 

Why Am I Going to Church Today?

September 4, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           September 4, 2016

                                

The Pew Research Center recently released findings that gave insights into what the most important factors are for people who are looking for a new church to worship at. The research says that about half of all American adults have looked for a new place to worship some time in their life, most often because of a move to a new living location.

The two most important factors in determining a new place of worship were the quality of the sermon (83%) and feeling welcomed by the leaders of the church (79%). 

    Style of the worship service (74) and location (70%) were the next two most important factors.

Since I’m speaking at a small American Baptist Church in a small town forty-five minutes east of Colorado Springs this question has relevance for the twenty people who attend. In fact, last Sunday one of the church leaders asked me why I thought people who visited the church a couple of times didn’t keep coming? They are wonderful people with limited resources, and I enjoy being with them each Sunday. In fact, I’ve traveled out to worship with them a couple of Sundays when I wasn’t speaking.

So it got me thinking! Why am I going to church today? Why do I go there even on Sundays when I have no worship leadership responsibilities? Being now a retired pastor, going to church on Sunday is not something that I HAVE to do, but rather choose to do.

But why?

I could easily list the reasons that don’t apply. For instance, it isn’t because of the donuts. There are no donuts, although it seems that a pan of brownies or a freshly-baked cake seem to show up just about every Sunday for the post-worship fellowship time. It isn’t because of the music, because the music is not very good…okay, it’s bad! A machine that plays background organ music, but half the time we are not singing the right notes. We’re like an elementary school choir with no practice! Screech!!!!

It isn’t because of the accommodations. The building is one hundred plus years old and does not inspire worship. It isn’t because of the other programs of the church. There are none! (That might actually be a positive for a retired pastor whose churches always had numerous programs!)

So why do I enjoy…in fact, feel drawn to go there each Sunday?

First of all, it’s the people! They aren’t sophisticated. They are just salt of the earth kind of folk. Everyone is loved and everyone is appreciated. They range in age from 3 to 90, from a former county commissioner to farmers with large herds of cattle. Last Sunday I was given a bag of just-picked corn to take home. The communion table has a plate of wheat grain on it that is from one of the farming families. Simple folk who love the Lord and love one another.

Second, I’m drawn there each Sunday because of the peace I experience. Peace is underrated! I can’t think of a day in the past few months of the presidential election campaign when there hasn’t been some kind of accusation or disparaging remark made. We come to a point where we think being insulting, demeaning, and obnoxious is normal behavior. I think we long for peace but have a hard time recognizing that we are peace-deficient in our lives. When I go to this small church I experience peace. For me, it is the Protestant equivalent of spending retreat time with the Sisters of the Benedictine Order convent, a time of drawing to the side and experiencing the warmth of God.

Finally, I’m drawn there because of the preparation. That is, it is a time of being prepared for a new week. In my life right now every week has a bit of uncertainty to it. Last week included three days of substitute teaching. This coming week presently only includes one day of that. Come Monday night or early Tuesday morning that could change instantly. There’s afternoon football practices and writing ideas to pursue. Sunday prepares me- calms me, if you will- for the uncertainty of what is to come.

People, peace, and preparation…I didn’t mean to make it three “P’s”…okay, yes I did! Pew Research has its research and I have my reasons.

The sad thing is that the church I travel to has had some conversations about whether they should close or not. What hits me is that I urgently need to share with them the reasons they shouldn’t, that they are making an incredible difference that they may not realize!

The Power of a Substitute With Skittles

September 3, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          September 3, 2016

                               

My journey into the world of substitute teaching (“guest teaching”) wrote a new chapter this week when I subbed for a high school social studies teacher for three days. What an experience!

World History for the partially motivated…Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History for the more motivated, or, for some, more stressed…and a classroom full of freshmen for Foundations of Learning, a sophisticated academic way of saying “study hall!”

The school I subbed in, two blocks from our house, operates on a “block system”, which means the classes are ninety minutes long and meet every other day.

The Foundations of Learning Class was the first class I had my first day. It consisted of freshmen who want to study, freshmen who pretend to study, and freshmen who could care less about studying. The conversation was continuous, but I let it go. I had brought a book with me, Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, but I found it hard to concentrate on the words. Back in my seminary days I would have to read some of the pages of theological writings out loud to hep me try to stay focused. I needed that as in the midst of the classroom conversations. When I read I either have ear buds in listening to music or I like it quiet. Being the teacher, it seemed that ear buds might be a bit risky.

Two days later I began the day once again with that study hall. I pondered how the ninety minutes of torture might go better. What might I do to change the culture of the classroom?

And then it hit me! Skittles! I emptied my piggy bank and bought a bag of Skittles for each of the students in the class. Yes, it set me back $10 of my already minimal guest teaching pay, but what an experience!

The class began with the regular suspects present. I took attendance and then showed the class the book I was reading, went into a brief excited explanation about how much I enjoyed reading history, but then explained how I either needed ear buds or quiet to comprehend what the pages were saying to me.

“I would really love to get twenty pages in my book read during class this morning, and, you know something, if I get twenty pages read I will be in celebration mode. I will be so happy…so, so happy that I think I’d like to give each of you a gift of celebration. So if you can help me concentrate and get twenty pages read…I want to give each of you a bag of Skittles at the end of class.”

Shock! Dismay! Confusion! Delight! Wondering if they heard me right! Open mouths of temporary astonishment!

“But, mind you, I can’t concentrate in the midst of a lot of noise, so you’ll have to help me out here.”

They dug in, but I noticed a few of them were looking at me to make sure that I was starting to read. I had instantly created the Skittles Security Guard , making sure I was on task with what I was suppose to be doing.

A few minutes later, a teacher at the school, and a friend of mine, stopped by to speak with one of the students, but when he saw that I was there we got into a conversation about basketball, his sons, and coaching. Talk about eyes of consternation being upon me. When our conversation had hit five minutes one of the students reminded me that I should be reading. I felt chastised and my teaching friend felt chased.

Back to the reading. Every few minutes someone would come by the desk and ask me how many pages I still had left to read? I was now the student in a room with twenty teachers.

At the end of class the Skittles became a reality for each one of them. Perhaps they were all sugared up for their next class, but in the process I hoped they discovered that Foundations of Learning could be ninety minutes of study and discovery on a regular basis.

The power of Skittles, a new tool for educating young minds!

Missing Mom Three Years Now!

September 2, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 2, 2016

                           

Today is the third anniversary of my mom’s passing. Three years since she slipped from the incredible care of my dad and sister and marched into Glory.

Her death was hardly a shock. In fact, we had prayed that it would come sooner than later. The Parkinson’s had taken a tremendous toll on her body. Long before her death she has lost the functioning of her arms and legs. More devastating than that, however, was the lost of speech. My mom was always the verbal one. She would begin a scolding or an opinion with an introduction like, “Buddy, let me tell you something!”, and then proceed to tell you three or four “somethings.” Even though there were many times when we wished…silently, if you will…that she would be quiet, the loss of her voice was a lonely stretch for our family on the journey of grief.

My mom’s voice defined her! She had that Eastern Kentucky accent that was just a bit north of Jed Clampett and the other Beverly Hillbillies. When she visited us in Michigan one time and had a woman compliment her on her accent she was a bit insulted by the idea that she talked a little different than others of the area.

“That lady said I had an accent! I don’t have an accent!” We tried not to laugh outwardly, but inwardly our spirits were shedding tears of laughter.

My dad has always been the one who has thought about what he was going to say. Mom just put it out there! Often her words brought direction for someone who was drifting in the streams of uncertainty. Someone grieving a loss was helped along the way by her words and actions. My best friends Mike and Dave were brought under her wing like two additional sons. Even though they had solid family systems, she gave them a bit more guidance, offered food to them, and told them that they were doing well.

When she stopped talking it was frustrating and humiliating to her, and painful for us as a family. What do you do when the person laying there in that bed is not the person you’ve known all your life? When I would call on Sunday evening and talk to Dad he would place the phone receiver next to Mom’s ear for brief times of conversation with her. I would do the best that I could, but she had always been the one who guided our conversations. I was like a sheep without the shepherd.

Three years ago I got the call that she was gone, and I rejoiced. Now each time I go back home to see my dad and sister we take a day to travel an hour and a half to the cemetery where she, as well as the rest of my relatives, is buried. I feel close to her as I stand beside her grave. I can hear her voice and I replay some of the memories as I stand there.

Towncraft underwear and socks every Christmas!

Sitting beside her in church.

Seeing her do her crossword puzzles.

Making me write a sentence 500 times that I would not do whatever sin I had committed again, with her goal of improving my handwriting. It didn’t work!

Seeing her head bob all over the place as she would fall asleep in car rides of more than thirty minutes.

Feasting on amazing meals!

I have been extremely blessed to have had her as my mother, and I miss her greatly!