When we left Los Angeles five years ago and moved to pastor a small church in Northern California, it felt similar to other moves we’ve made–more of a call than a decision. We’ve never experienced the sense of deciding where we wanted to live geographically, or what kind of church to be part of, or what churches were available, or even when to go. It has always felt more like the Door of Calling suddenly opened and we had to decide whether to walk through it or not–normally after I’ve spent considerable time trying to slam the door shut. Four times such moves have happened, each one a complicated story, and particularly because I have always philosophically believed in long-term pastorates. Anyway, one of the most exciting things about the move here to The Cove in Santa Rosa was the idea that I would get more time to actually pastor people and spend less time on administration, property, personnel and budgets.

So last week I headed into my office on Tuesday, which is normally a day without appointments. I can start my week with some quiet, follow-up on things from Sunday, plan and set and prep for meetings, and do some writing. Though I love being with people, I relish this one day to simply enjoy a grounding quiet.

Tuesday began in silence. I lit the candle in my office at 7:20am and did a bit of reading. Before long, my phone rang–a pastor friend from SoCal needed to talk through an upcoming meeting. After we finished, I did a little sermon work for Sunday before chatting with Bob, an amazing volunteer who had come to campus to work on the landscape irrigation system–such a gift. Heading back indoors, I noticed a bit of commotion in the south parking lot, with a couple of cars and a motorcycle. They were soon joined by two Sonoma County Sheriff vehicles, who moved them on without incident. I chatted for a while with the two officers.

A short time later, my 78-year-old friend Tim came by for our scheduled twice a month walk-and-talk around the neighborhood. Arriving back at church, we prayed together before he left, and then I ambled over to chat with our custodians Manuel and Teresa, who were busy cleaning the building for another week of activity. Finally returning to my office, I needed to respond to four text messages pertaining to an upcoming Newcomer / New Member class, as well as answer a Cove person who had just returned home after a hospital stay. Three people out of a long list of emails also needed quick answers. Then right around lunchtime, I spent more time with Bob and Manuel, repairing a broken storage room door lock–we had to remove the entire door to get at it.

At 1pm I had to be on a nearly two-hour zoom call with 14 people from around the country for a board meeting. After the meeting I returned two texts, and then hustled downtown to meet a Cove friend by 4pm. Arriving home afterwards and having a bite to eat, Anne and I then zipped over to a scheduled meetup with some friends across town.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, what I’d thought was a secluded catch-up day was actually a day full of people. Roughly 32 of them, virtually or in-person. Thirty-two chances to talk, listen, encourage, be encouraged by, pray for or with people. A couple things were scheduled or expected, but most just happened. It wasn’t until the day was nearly over that I realized how many people interactions had occurred. The truth is, I first thought of a number of them as interruptions in my preconceived day, even though it’s exactly what I want to be doing. I say I want time to be with people, but then easily forget they are the important part of my day.

When I read the gospels, Jesus seems especially adept at noticing people, undistracted by other things going on around him. He watched, paid attention and relished opportunities to be with people who were right in front of him–the woman at the well, Bartimaeus, the man born blind, Mary and Martha, stumbling disciples, pressing crowds, belligerent religious leaders. Somehow, people always seemed to end up in front of Jesus, and he saw them.

My day reminded me of a story the late Eugene Peterson told me on a Montana hike once, about birdwatching. I think it’s in a book or two of Eugene’s. He and his wife Jan had a guest in town who was an experienced birdwatcher, and they decided to go to a prime location for a silent walk to see what birds could be spotted. When they finished and compared notes, Eugene started to apologize that there just didn’t seem to be any birds around that day. He worried and wondered if he’d picked a bad spot. But their friend smiled and said “What?! I saw 17 different kinds of birds- what were you looking for?!”

What are we looking for? Who are the people crossing our paths, what unexpected encounters or casual contacts are happening around us all the time? Will we receive them as holy moments, or miss them as routine circumstances or interruptions? I guess it depends on what we’re looking for.

Peace of Christ,

Dan Baumgartner

Dan Baumgartner is the senior pastor at The Cove in Santa Rosa CA and serves as Secretary on The Fellowship Community Board.