Monday, May 30, 2005

life and ministry on a holiday weekend

I served for seven years as an associate pastor, in two different settings. I learned that the civic holiday Sundays were very different from the others---the congregation was often scattered, here and there, in North Carolina often in the mountains or at the beach. During those seven years I often received the assignment to preach. Of course, this was the senior pastor's call to make, and I always put myself into it, whether it was Memorial Day weekend or July 4th weekend or Labor Day weekend.

At a later time I was organizing pastor of a new church. I really dreaded these weekends, because people truly were gone---their families of origin most often living in other places, Birmingham or Chicago or Knoxville or somewhere in Florida.

Then I was assigned some time later to be senior pastor at a large church. I decided that I would try to arrive at some balance on these Sundays, dispersing them among the different preachers, myself included. Along the way I learned that I enjoyed somehow linking these Sundays to the gospel--one year I reflected on the Vietnam Veteran's Wall in Washington (Memorial Day), on another I spoke about Abraham Lincoln's faith (July 4th), and on another I preached about a Christian perspective on work (Labor Day).

Over time, I also began to enjoy these long holiday weekends in the church. At Providence, as in many U.S. congregations, the church office is closed on the Monday of these three weekends. By nature things tend to slow down. There is always a pastor on call--this year that happens to be me, and crises do arise. But the traffic thins out, there is no early morning rush to school, and so there is a little more time to sleep, the restaurants are less crowded, and there is a little time to think about life and the near future. Since I usually have some kind of writing project going, these weekends are nice for that as well.

In addition, I approach Sunday morning at the church in a different way on these weekends. I try to focus on who is there, and not on who is not there. I have had some long and meaningful conversations with people on these Sundays, precisely because there is no great rush to be somewhere. Whereas I was once apologetic about these weekends---"I'm sorry we don't have all of our Sunday School classes today, our choir is not what it was last Sunday, etc.", now I am more grateful for the people who are there.

I am also more understanding of those who are not present, because the mountains and shorelines are actually wonderful settings to be, and I always love it when I find myself in those places.

These three weekends may have nothing to do with the liturgical calendar, but they have everything to do with the rhythms of our lives: a time to remember sacrifices, a time to cherish freedom, a time to value work.

Time is God's gift to us, like an "ever rolling stream", we sang yesterday. I am learning to appreciate the different times and seasons of life (Ecclesiastes 4).


Let the people scatter, let them return safely.
Let the people rest, let them remember.
Let the people worship, let them rejoice and be glad.



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