“My own congregation”

Christ the Servant 170630

Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Vadnais Heights, MN

I am wrapping up my second interim this week and will probably start another interim later this summer.  What a joy to serve among the people of Christ the Servant and I am excited to see how they move forward in ministry with the leadership of their new pastor.

On Saturday, I was conducting a funeral and had a brief conversation with one of the attendees.  She commented on what a lovely congregation Christ the Servant is and how I must enjoy serving there. I told her yes it was a joy. I continued, “I am the interim pastor and tomorrow the congregation will vote to call a new settled pastor.”  She said, “Do you like doing interim ministry?”  I responded, “Yes, I do.”  Then she said, “Well, don’t you want to have your own church?”

Her question plucked a emotional string within me.  At one time in my ministry I definitely wanted to have “my own church.”  The thought appealed to my ego and my desire to be in charge.  However, when I had the opportunity to lead a congregation, I discovered that though I liked the title and some of the challenges in leading a congregation, my heart was restless and troubled.  Upon prayerful reflection, I learned that I was “over-identifying” with the congregation and tying my personal worth into the successes and missteps of the congregation.  When the congregation felt good, I was good; if the congregation felt down, I was down.

When I stepped into interim ministry I was able to detach these emotional strings that I had created.  As an interim pastor I have a “lighter” touch on the congregation, relying heavily on the lay leadership to guide the congregation.  I am both a consultant who comes from the outside and can observe the current behavior and mission of the congregation while also being a pastor who steps into the community to shepherd them during the interim. As my trainer said, “An interim pastor has one foot in the system and one foot outside the system.” Also my heart is not as restless and my mind is more fully engaged in the community.  I believe that this is my calling from God for this stage of my ministry.

I am thankful that God has provided a variety of gifts within the church.  I am thankful for those pastors, deacons and lay professional who can faithfully serve many years in one congregation, guiding them into deeper levels of vital ministry. I am also thankful for the calling I now have, to guide congregations through the transitions between such settle pastors.  The body of Christ needs all the gifts to be healthy and vibrant.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but the God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit in everyone.  1 Corinthians 12:4-7

How are you using your spiritual gifts?

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Microadventure

My friend, Bob Timmons, wrote an article for the Minneapolis Star Tribune called “Making 2017 a year for microadventure in Minnesota’s outdoors”  He inspired me to consider my own micro-adventure: a two night winter campout at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Though I have done plenty of summer camping and backpacking, I have never tried winter camping.  Living in a state best known for winter, I had to try.

I started by simply setting up my tent in the backyard to see if two sleeping pads and two sleeping bags would be sufficient.  Also to see if my CPAP machine for sleep apnea would work on battery power.  Though it only dropped to 28 degrees that night, I was warm and the CPAP worked fine.

Next I invited my son and grandson to enjoy an overnight campout at a nearby state park.  I had purchased a new 6 person tent and wanted to test it out prior to the Gooseberry Falls trip.  The weather was fairly warm, about 30 degrees for the night low.  We all fun, so my plan moved forward.

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Son Jon and Grandson Jack at William O’Brien State Park

I arrived at Gooseberry Falls State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior at about 3 pm.  I discovered that the plowed roads had only four campsites; the other campsites were available but I would need to hike through icy snow.  I was the only camper in the park and picked one assessable by car.

My micro-adventure had several lessons to teach me.  All of Minnesota had been experiencing a recent warm spell which melted all the snow in the Twin Cities.  However at Gooseberry Falls there was still some snowpack, but most of it had a thick glaze of ice which made footing treacherous.  There was an open patch for my tent, but the ground was still frozen and my aluminum tent pegs were bending prior to penetrating the soil.  Lesson one: find alternative tent pegs or ways to secure tent.

I brought plenty of clothes with the idea of trying various layers.  My basic down coat and three lower layers all worked well, but my hands were cold much of the first evening.  I was wearing thick gloves but probably should have worn mittens with liner gloves.  Lesson two: explore different glove/mitten options.

gooseberry1It was nearly dark by the time I finished setting up my tent and got a fire going.  My dinner was fairly simply to fix but I hadn’t organized my cooking gear in any reasonable way.  With the light of my headlamp I was able to find the needed items, but only after searching several bags or boxes.  And with heavy gloves the search was more difficult.  Lesson three: organize cook gear prior to leaving home.

The night sky was brilliant with stars; Venus, Orion and the Big Dipper clearly visible.  After enjoying the campfire and a last cup of tea, I climbed into my tent to sleep.  I was not worried about bears (hibernation) and the night was clear so I left several items on the picnic table as I went to bed.   I did bring the water bag into the tent to avoid freezing.

gooseberry2My CPAP machine worked but breathing cold air kept waking me up.  When I climbed out of my sleeping bag at 7:00 am and opened the tent, I was surprised to see three-inches of snow covering all the gear left on the picnic table. Lesson four: put gear away even on a clear night.

I spent the day hiking the trails of Gooseberry falls and taking a few pictures.  The problem remained the patchy glare ice, especially troublesome with the fresh snow covering it.  Though I used my trekking poles and extreme caution, I still fell four or five times during the day.  The austere scenery kept me moving forward.  Lesson five: micro-spikes?

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Where the Gooseberry River enters Lake Superior

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Gooseberry Falls 

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Gooseberry River and Lake Superior in the snow

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Lake Superior in Winter Sunlight

The second evening and night were colder, probably 11 degrees, and I thought about nearby warm motels.  But my goals was two nights so I stayed in my tent through the night, got up, made breakfast, packed up and headed home by 9 am.  Thus forty continuous hours outside is my first microadventure of 2017.  What is yours?

Completion

One thing I rarely have experienced in my three decades of pastoral ministry is a sense of completion.  Unlike a contractor who sees a completed home or an artist who holds a completed piece, I have rarely felt like I had finished a long-term task.  I may have finished a pastoral visit or a Sunday sermon, but there were always more visits to make and sermons to write.  The job of pastor, by its nature, was never finished.

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Trinity Lutheran in Lindstrom, MN

So when I ended my thirteen month interim at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom last week, I was surprised that my dominant emotion has been a sense of satisfaction.  I had accomplished the specific job I was called to do.  I had been their temporary shepherd as they took time to grieve the departure of their previous senior pastor, to assess their present mission and leadership needs and to call a new senior pastor.  Now they are ready as a congregation to walk forward into God’s future.

12741879_10153577171059480_1232960852186957582_n-2Yes, there are other emotions.  I feel sadness at leaving some great relationships.  As a pastor I shared in the joy of baptisms and the sorrows of funerals.  Together we struggled how to faithfully steward a large bequest to the congregation.  I truly enjoyed working with Trinity’s leadership of council and committees as together we sought God’s path for Trinity.  I will miss many gracious people.

palmsundayhorizontal2014What my recent study and practice of mindfulness has taught me is that all things change.  As a pastor I intellectually knew this, but never fully embraced it.  All pastoral ministries come to an end.  As an intentional interim pastor I recognized this from the start.  I practiced “living one day at a time, enjoying each moment at time,” as the Serenity Prayer says.  Some days I did become anxious, trying to control the outcome.  But during my final weeks at Trinity, as they prepared for the arrival of their new pastor, I took time to be grateful for the opportunity to serve and to savor the satisfaction of my call’s completion.

At this time, I do not know where my next interim will be.  I am reminded of Psalm 121,

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

For now, I rest during my personal interim.

When have you experienced a sense of completion?  How did you respond to it?

Thanksgiving 2016

This year I am grateful for

My family which continues to grow

Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom, where I serve as Interim Pastor.

My running buddies who also like to drink coffee

For hiking trails and  hiking friends

For the gifts of worship and centering prayer

For the simple joy of being alive in Christ.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  Nehemiah 8:10

For what are you grateful?

Reflecting on the Election

Tuesday evening, I sat down to watch the election results.  I had voted several weeks earlier and was expecting Hillary Clinton to win.  The polls, the main-stream media, my thinking all said, “It may be close, but Hillary will win.”  But as the night and morning unfolded, it became clear that Donald Trump would be our next president.

questionI felt a wave of disappointment, sadness and surprise flow through my body.  I recognized my body’s reaction and simply sat with those feeling for a while.  I also noticed my thinking racing to all kinds of scenarios, “How will President Trump handle Vietnam (where my son’s company does business)” “How will he handle health care, Syria, national disasters, immigrants, global warming, women’s issues?” . . . on and on.

As I stepped back from my stream of thoughts, I realized that nothing has actually changed as of right now.  President Obama is still our President and will be for two months.  President-elect Trump will be making decisions in the future that will change our country and my life, but until he actually makes the changes, it is not helpful or healthy for me to be consumed with worry.  I have had a habit of catastrophizing or magnifying the importance of things and situations out of proportion to reality.  In the past, my thinking would focus on the election of Donald Trump as the possible end of the world. It is not.  It is not what I voted for, but it is not a disaster.

As I write that, I realize that President Trump will have tremendous power and the potential to do much harm (as well as much good) for  people.  Some of his campaign rhetoric greatly disturbed me.  But right now they are words and not policy or legislation.  I will need to be vigilant as to what policies and legislation does come forth, but to be consumed with anger or anxiety at this moment seems unproductive and unhealthy.

I know that many of my fellow Americans are responding differently.   I am mindful that my response is not for everyone.  I am mindful of St. Paul’s pastoral advice in Romans 12:15-16  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.   I realize that some of my friends and colleagues are rejoicing in this election with the hope of change while others are weeping at the same prospect.  I am not wise enough to know how to help all of them other than to be a peaceful, loving presence in the midst of great confusion.

I continue to pray that God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done.  Amen.

Rocks

On the last evening of my hike I struggled up a rugged overgrown trail towards a high ridge.  I had left the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that afternoon for a side trail.  The new trail would eventually lead me to a trailhead where I would meet my brother and sister, but the word “eventually” was taking new meaning.  The trail had not been cleared of fallen trees in several years and brush had overgrown sections.  Whereas the PCT was known for its overuse of switchback (making for longer, gentler climbs and descents) the new trail was what I called a “billie goat trail.”  It climbed straight up the ridge, as if made for billie goats and not humans. I missed the PCT.

09-0816-methow-pass-north-editedIt was about 6 pm when I reached the top of the ridge and found a place to plop down.  The spot was semi-flat and a potential camping spot for the night.  I decided to make dinner and then decide if I would camp or hike further.  The rest and food restored my energy level and I decided to push on. “There will be another camping spot on the next ridge,” I thought.

As I walked down the trail into the next valley, I encountered a solo hiker, only the second party I had encountered since leaving the PCT.  We chatted for a moment.  He was climbing to the ridge top to take some pictures of the evening sunset and had set up his tent in the small valley towards which I was headed.   “That’s the last water source before you reach Devil’s Basin.  There are a couple of open campsites there if you want to stop.”

I hiked on down to the small stream and refilled my water bottles.  I saw his tent, but no other campsites were visible from the trail.  There was still an hour of sunlight and I prefer to camp high for the morning vistas, so I pushed on.

The trail to this second ridge was gentler, but when I reached the top there was no obvious campsite.  The trail was built into the side of the ridge with no level spaces in view.  Darkness was coming on and I kept hiking, hoping that I would eventually find a workable spot for my tent.

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The trail up the scree field in the morning light

Earlier I had heard that the trail had a tricky spot.   The trail climbed a third ridge but made the climb through a scree field.  A scree field is a collection of loose rocks, smaller than footballs.  Imagine climbing a pile of rock and gravel.  Now I was approaching the scree field and saw no visible trail.  Darkness was deepening and I did not want to climb the field in the dark, even with a headlamp. No level spot was visible around me.

So I did the only sensible thing.

I camped right on the trail in the midst of the rocks.

It was not totally level, but it worked for one night.  I had a new air mattress that would smooth the rockiest ground.  I set up my tent, inflated my air mattress and crawled in for the night.

Throughout my hike, I embraced the serenity prayer.  First to be at peace with whatever I encountered; to have serenity about the things I cannot change, such as lack of camping sites.  The second was the courage to change what I could, which was my attitude.  Instead of despairing that I was camping on rocks, I saw it a new adventure, a test of my camping skills.

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Tent, air mattress, jacket and pack in the morning.

Though I would not recommend camping on rocks, sometimes it’s the only choice.  In the morning I was rewarded with a spectacular view.

If you would like to see a video of the trail and campsite, click to my YouTube video
Night on the Rocks

Prayer

I have written in the past regarding the difficulties I  have had “staying present” to the trail.  My mind would get stuck in some endless loop of worries, narratives, thoughts and concerns that often pulled me away from my time in the wilderness. I would be lost in some past experience or future anxiety; my thoughts raced everywhere but on the trail itself.  My 2016 trip had some of that, but much less than the past.  My daily practice of meditation has quieted (but not tamed) the wild beast.

04-0815-granite-pass-1-2Part of my practice on this trip was to deliberately take time in the morning to practice lovingkindness meditation, something I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living describes the practice

To practice lovingkindness meditation, we begin with awareness of our breathing.  Then we consciously invite feelings of love and kindness towards ourselves to arise, perhaps remembering a moment when we felt completely seen and accepted by another human being and inviting those feelings of kindness and love to re-emerge. . . . Then perhaps saying inwardly to ourselves simple phrases that you can make up yourself, “May I be free from inner and outer harm, may I be healthy.”  After a time we can then go on, if we care to, to invoke someone else, perhaps a person we are close to and care deeply about.   We can hold the person in our heart as we wish the person well: “May she (he) be happy, may she (he) experience love and joy.”  In the same vein we may then include others we know and love. (page 214-215).

I see this as a form of intercessor prayer and have adapted it to my own meditation practice.  On the trail each morning, I would invest time reciting the following prayer, starting with myself,

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be strong and alert.
May I be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I then expanded the prayer to my family and to those I know.   As the hike went on, my circle of names grew wider and wider: the thru-hikers I met, the trail crews clearing trail, the National Forest administrators and staff.   Often I ended including the whole creation.

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Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:7-13

 

Each morning, after my time of prayer, I discovered that I was centered and at peace.  I could actually be present on the trail through the rest of the day.

What forms of prayer bring you peace?