Living into Our Calling
“I’m feeling lost. I felt so sure about my calling to be a pastor, but right now I’m uncertain. I’m busy, maybe too busy, doing tasks but it’s not what I imagined doing as a pastor.” I’ve overlaid five different comments from five different pastor friends to come up with the above quote. All of them headed a similar direction: trying to come out of Covid isolation and sheltering-in-place and masking and virtual gatherings, what does being a pastor even look or feel like? I get it. We’re all in the same boat. For fifteen months, I’ve wrestled and persevered and made worship videos and produced livestreams and hosted zoom meetings and zoom book groups and zoom staff times to the point I feel like I should go on a zoom fast. Now the discussions are all about pivoting to re-opening strategies. We’re (maybe) emerging from Covid–what should pastors be doing? I tried to think of any recent times it felt like I was living into my calling.
A few weeks ago, Ron died. He was a longtime integral part of the church, but I’d only known him since Alzheimers had changed his life dramatically. Ron loved to worship, and in his last years would shout out greetings across the sanctuary during quiet prayer or sing with gusto that was so off-key he might have been on-key. His patient wife Diane walked step by step with him until he passed. When I visited her the day after Ron died, we sat at her kitchen table with her sister. They talked about Ron. We cried. Laughed. Prayed. Diane’s thoughtfulness and deep trust in God was so evident, it inspired me. As I left, I wondered how I might react in a similar situation.
Mike is one of our elders, an attorney and a young dad. We were scheduled to
go to a ballgame together last week, and I looked forward to both a fun time and a good conversation. His text that morning said “How do you feel about my two eleven year-olds joining us?” Of course. I could guess that with three elementary kids at home, a number of challenging extended family situations and a busy career, finding dad-time with his kids was critical. We had a very fun time. AND a good conversation.
Yesterday, Dave popped in to say hi. He was wearing his red, white and blue-striped t-shirt. Not exactly a flag, but it was appropriate for the Fourth of July week. Dave is one of the saints, a retired engineer in his early 80’s who hops on a sit- down lawnmower every Wednesday to mow the entire church campus. Usually after he finishes, he stops to chat. Dave is a little challenged conversationally, but we find things to talk about. I had been here about six months before Dave told me about his divorce some years ago. I had been here about twelve months before he told me they had lost an infant to SIDS and things had headed downhill after that.
This morning I was working in my quiet church office with my outside door propped open, hearing the sounds of neighbors walking their dogs or driving to work.
“Excuse me, but is this a church?” A shorter man with a bright green vest was standing outside. It turns out that what he really needed was…a restroom. “It IS a church, and we have a restroom you can use. What’s your name?” Carlos. It turns out Carlos was driving a yellow school bus and had just dropped a busload of special needs kids from San Francisco at an event near our church, but couldn’t find a public facility. We chatted, and he went on with his day.
After Carlos left, I had an appointment with Sydney. She lives in the neighborhood and had emailed me about possibly using a room at the church once or twice a week for voice therapy and meditation sessions connected to cancer recovery. Sydney is probably in her thirties. As I found out more about her, she mentioned she had been battling cancer for over a year. As she told me about her alternative therapies, I got the impression her spirituality was probably all over the place. As a quiet aside, she revealed she had just been through a painful breakup with her longtime boyfriend. Tough year. I told her we hoped the use of the space at the church would be a blessing. I thought she might cry.
I know I have sermons to prepare, worship services to plan, interviews for a vacant position to conduct, a worship calendar to complete, our service teams to rebuild and some work to do with Session to regain some of the connections and momentum lost during Covid. But when I asked myself where I had felt like a pastor recently, I didn’t think of any of those things. I thought about Ron and Diane. And Mike and his kids. And Dave. And Carlos. And Sydney.
Peace of Christ,
Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as a member of The Fellowship Community Board.