After ministry adventures in Minneapolis, my hometown of Seattle, and nearly a decade in Hollywood, CA, we now live in Santa Rosa, CA.
That’s Northern California for the unknowing (as I was until 2019), about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. We are in Sonoma County, home of the most vineyards I’ve ever seen–425 different wineries, but who’s counting? Santa Rosa has about 175,000 people. Since I run and bike, I’ve been all over the city, which is how I discovered the West Ninth Street rookery a couple miles from our house.
The rookery is a gathering of birds who come every spring to a few large trees on the center-strip median of West 9th Street, a local arterial. These are not just any birds, they are big ones–Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets as well as Black-Crowned Night Herons. Every spring they return to the same two or three trees, building far too many nests for the available spindly branches, hatching eggs and beginning to raise their young. Then they leave, and the cycle starts all over again the following spring. The youngsters are cute and the adults are stunningly beautiful, awkward on the ground but graceful in flight. Every spring, they come “home.” They use their months here to get re-grounded, familiarize themselves with tradition and connect once again with the mysterious instincts that help them know where they belong. Sort of like the season of Lent.
In the midst of all the discussions and statistics about how many pastors are leaving the ministry (or thinking about it) after Covid, and how many folks seem to be missing from church communities–it’s unclear if they are gone forever, viewing online, and/or no longer see regular times of worship as important–it seems to me like many of us could use some re-grounding as well. Lent was actually like that for me this year.
I’m not in any vocational crisis. I love being a pastor. But if I’m honest, it’s been a challenging couple of years and I had a bit of spiritual weariness. Three things happened for me during Lent. First, rather than fasting from something this year, I adopted a new practice: praying on my knees. Literally. I have a small prayer carpet, and I committed a few minutes each day to that posture. It’s amazing how different the world looks from one’s knees, and what a great reminder it is of the vastness of God. Second, many in our church adopted a Lenten challenge to pray individually for a different person each of the six weeks of Lent–for them to be encounter the Lord, and receive the healing and encouragement they need. It was lovely to be obligated to take my eyes off myself with regularity. Finally, I had some sermons scheduled from the Gospel of John, culminating with John 15.
As always, I was struck by how repetition in scripture often highlights something important. When Jesus gave his I-Am-the-Vine sermon in John 15, he repeats some form of the verb menein at least 10 times in 10 verses. Abide. Stick with. Remain. Continue with. Stay connected. Or as the Bible scholar Dale Bruner likes to say, make your home with. Remain with Jesus. Remain in Jesus. Make your home with Jesus. Remain in Jesus’ love. Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship. Make your home with Jesus.
It seems to me like this obvious thing is our best antidote to spiritual weariness, boredom or distance. We choose to do what is natural for the Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons. We go home. We return to Jesus. Letting various distractions, both good things and bad, take a back seat for awhile we go home to get re-grounded, familiarize ourselves with tradition and remind us where we belong. At home. With Jesus. If we aren’t there regularly, we’ll never be ready to persevere in ministry.
Peace of Christ,
Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.