Archive for ◊ August, 2011 ◊

• Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

In June, I had the honor of spending five days at the Interim Ministry Network’s Annual National Conference, where I offered two workshops based on our book, Finishing With Grace:

Workshop # 1 – The Truth About Church Closings:
Exploring the theological and spiritual conundrum of
declining congregations

Workshop #2 – Finishing Well: Addressing the spiritual and practical
needs of congregations that are facing heartbreaking

I was profoundly affected by the stories and concerns raised by the clergy who are most often leading congregations through these challenging times.

There was one minister who was near tears telling the story of his last settled pastorate of 12 years where the church decided they had to close because of an aging congregation and dwindling financial resources. “Was there more I could have done to keep them going? Is it my fault we closed?
Did I take good care of them as they said goodbye to the building and each other?” Clearly this caring professional is haunted by the events that took place in that congregation.

In a completely different situation, another passionate and equally emotional interim minister shared her reluctance to let her last interim congregation disband and the resulting struggle that continues in that church. She feels guilty for not helping that church close.

It is easy to understand how hard these situations are on the folks sitting in the pews, but this was a terrific reminder to me of how hard it is to be a pastor/interim pastor in these circumstances. It often feels like a no-win predicament. As the “spiritual leader” you want to do right by the people who have put their trust in you, but sometimes the right path is completely unclear.

We went on to talk about the fact that congregations have “callings” just like individuals do, and sometimes we fulfill the call and it ends or changes.
Some congregations have answered a call faithfully for a very long time, but when the calling is finished, it is time to move on. A pastor, interim or otherwise, can lead congregations through processes that help them discern if they still have a call and if so, what that calling is. If the church determines that they should close, it is the interim’s role to provide compassionate care for church members as they move through the closure process. Doing that well, however, often comes at a high personal price for the pastoral leadership.

Linda’s and my next project will be an email newsletter for transitional pastors in these and similar situations. Our plan is to provide support for ministers who are caring for congregations at similar crossroads. Keep you eyes peeled fro more information on this upcoming ministry.

• Tuesday, August 09th, 2011

As I’ve mentioned before in my blogs, a dear friend and I journal daily via email. She’s on the west coast; I am on the east. Friends since college – and now in our upper sixties, our journaling has proven to be a wonderful way to put our lives in perspective. In the past several years we have addressed the major issues of our worlds and analyzed our favorite vacation spot. We have attempted to define ourselves – and have acknowledged how cool it is to be grandmothers.

A few months ago, we asked each other “What role does prayer play in your life and do you pray regularly? For me – as a conservative Yankee – this is a tough question to answer – publicly. My friend is more comfortable discussing her prayer life.

Perhaps our responses – dramatically different from each other, might help others who are unsure about prayer in their lives.

My friend’s answer:

I do a lot of praying with people one-on-one. I attend two churches – at one I am a Prayer Chaplain and at the other I am Healing Rail Lay Minister.

When I was praying for a friend’s daughter who was dying, I learned a huge truth. Sometimes all the prayers in the world wont bring the specific request to the result you are asking for. In this case, a young woman who I witnessed being born, died at the age of 18.

It made me very sad and then it made me angry and then came the great insight, you can pray for the comfort of God’s loving arms around you, symbolically, and you can pray for relief from fear and you can pray for well-being and peace.

And then the second part of prayer, I think, is listening for God’s answer. Meditation is the listening time…

I have a phrase I love that always gets me started when I pray in public: “Holy Spirit be with us this evening and dance between us, within us and around us. Comfort and support us and reveal to us your will.”

Here’s my response:

I do pray – and it surprises me to say that since I don’t consider myself a religious person. And that’s an odd comment, too – since I am so active in my church. Shame faced to admit this, but I used to go to church for the friendships and social, but somewhere along the way I had a “ta da” moment and figured out why I was really sitting in that sanctuary.

I remember when I had a health scare and I was astonished at the number of people who – when hearing about it – said “I will pray for you.” And these weren’t just church friends, but strangers on the street (so to speak). That was a turning point for me prayer wise. I became aware of an outpouring of caring – whether it was actual prayers – or just the sense that people were thinking about me. It was a great comfort – and calming

I’ve always prayed at bedtime. The Lord’s Prayer – and a prayer for family and friends. It’s become a habit – running a few positive thoughts through my mind – thinking about others – before I go to sleep. We have a woman here where I live who was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer. I barely know her, but she creeps into my prayers. And with her in my mind I’m apt to add others – expand that prayer list.

My prayers are never vocal – they just run through my mind. So, yes, I pray. And it helps me get to sleep at night.

Amen to them!