Posted tagged ‘Sunday morning’

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

Finding My Place: When a Pastor Retires To…”

April 9, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 9, 2016

                         

Today marks the one hundredth day of retirement for me after thirty-six and a half years of church pastoral ministry. One hundred days! In my later years of ministry I was feeling the loss of energy and finding it hard to get recharged on Monday for another week of ministry and activity. I’ll be honest! I looked forward to retirement. When I announced my retirement date about one hundred days beforehand I began the countdown.

In many ways beginning this new phase of my life has been enjoyable. I enjoy the freedom of deciding whether I will or will not do a certain task. For example, in recent weeks I’ve started substitute teaching and if I don’t feel like taking a position on a certain day I don’t. The freedom is a breath of fresh air.

But the greener grass on the other side of the pasture has some challenges hidden in it! In my backyard there is a certain soft spot in the grass that I frequently step in when I’m mowing the lawn. It is well hidden and not deep enough to cause me to turn an ankle, but enough of a depth to sometimes make me lose my balance.

That’s a picture of how it is for a pastor who retires. There is the expected steps as he/she walks through the challenges of ministry, the fulfilling of the roles of being a pastor…and then there is the slipping step of retiring. Who am I in that moment of surprising imbalance and uncertainty?

Ministerial ethics has made me keep some distance from the church I pastored for sixteen years. It’s the right thing to do as the congregation searches for the next pastor, and has some time to figure out who it is. Interim periods are great times for churches to regroup, evaluate, talk, and move ahead. Having the former pastor hovering inhibits that process, kind of like having the dad of a teenager sitting in at a gathering of adolescents! It affects the conversation and is not cool!

So where does that leave me? Truthfully…wandering! A retired pastor enters the woods, but has a hard time finding the path. It is one of those journeys that Google Maps can’t give directions for.

Who is my church? What do I do on Sunday morning? For that matter, what do I do on Saturday night? How do people from my former congregation greet me now…Bill?…Pastor Bill?… Mr. Bill? Is my purpose still the same? What congregation do I become a part of?

Retirement is a time of questions and confusion, and, like a first semester college freshman trying to find his classroom location, I’m trying to find my way.

Scripture doesn’t help that much in this part of the journey. Aaron got taken up to Mount Hor and everybody said “See ya!”, and he died there. I really don’t want to be taken to the top of Pike’s Peak and left for dead!

So I wander to something that is not yet clear and comfortable. It is a redefining travel. It is the soft spot in the lawn that I sink into before finding solid ground again. And it may end up being the most important part of my life journey, because through it I’ll discover who I really am and who I’m not!

Coffee With Jesus…Sixth Cup”

August 4, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    August 4, 2014

                             

“It’s been a few days. Have you abstained from the caffeine?”

“Just been busy,” I replied to the Messiah. “Things have been…you know…crazy!” The two of us hadn’t gotten together for coffee for almost two weeks. “I’m sorry! I’ll try to get back into a regular coffee time with you.”

“You don’t need to apologize.”

“Well…I know you’re always available, and here I am taking two weeks to get together with you. I feel a little embarrassed about that.”

“Get over it!”

“Okay…so you’re saying my sin is taken care of.”ht

“Do you think it was a sin?”

“I’m assuming so. It seems that if I’m feeling a little guilty about something that there has to be sin lurking somewhere underneath it.”

“Could it be that it’s more about how you’ve been conditioned…how you were raised…what the church taught you growing up? Things like that.”

“So you’re saying that I’ve been conditioned to feel guilty?”

“In some ways. Were you told growing up that you should be at church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night?”

“A few thousand times. You know the saying, Jesus…if you go to church on Sunday morning, you love the pastor…if you go on Sunday night, you love the church…but if you go on Wednesday night, you love the Lord.”

“So when you miss spending time with me you start wondering if you really love me?”

“Yes…it comes back around to that again.”

“Why do lovers of God think performance is so important? Why can’t they rest with an assurance that they are in love with the Lord, and the Lord is in love with them?”

“And when you say “they”…you’re saying “me?”

“Good catch.”

“Because we’ve…been conditioned that way. I’m operating out of a mindset that says this is what it means to be a good Christian boy. It’s hard to break out of that understanding. It’s almost like I feel I’m betraying my roots, all the people who invested in my life.”

“So, to put it bluntly, you’re more conditioned by your culture than transformed by God.”

“Wow…that was pretty blunt. And it’s dead on. To use a rough example…it’s kind of like when I eat oatmeal now. Growing up we always put graham crackers in our oatmeal. The other day I was at Starbucks around breakfast time and I decided to get a bowl of oatmeal. Do you realize that Starbucks doesn’t serve graham crackers with their oatmeal. They give you raisins and nuts to put in it. I protested…to myself…that this wasn’t oatmeal, but since I paid $2.60 for it I went ahead and ate it. Do you know something? It was pretty good! But I had to break out of that “conditioned understanding” of what oatmeal is.”

“You put graham crackers in your oatmeal?”

“Yes.”

“That is weird! And you call yourself a Christian!”

He gave me a slight grin.

TO BE CONTINUED