Of Pew and Pulpit.
As some of you know, Terri and I spent two months in Scotland in 2013. We had a great time, saw some wonderful landscapes and seascapes, visited the Isle of Skye from which some of my ancestors came, and met many wonderful people. We had the opportunity to exchange pulpits with a Church of Scotland minister. We also exchanged cars, houses, rabbits, and communities. If any of you want to read some of my blogs from that period of time, let me know, I can take them out of the electronic file cabinet and send them to you.
One of my experiences revolved around the relationship between the people of the church and their pastor. Nothing negative here to report. Rev. Gordon Stevenson is a man of God, passionate about his faith and calling. A 2nd career pastor, he brings a great work ethic to the church as well as a passion of only having a few years of focused ministry left. We experienced the people of the congregation to be people of prayer with a heart for God and a love of Jesus. During our time in the congregation Terri and I experienced for the first time what it meant to be the pastor and his wife…a team in ministry. What a gift.
The church which we served was in the town of Dunbar, 30 miles East of Edinburgh. There had been a church on that site for over a thousand years. The present sanctuary dated back 300+ years even though it had been rebuilt in the late 1980’s and early 90’s after a fire. Surrounded by a cemetery there was the tangible sense that this house of God had been a hub of life for many for a very long period of time. What a contrast to the congregation I served at the time, The Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole. It had only been in existence for 19 years.
It was that sense of history that formed a tangible sense of continuity within those who sat in the pews (actually they were chairs since the fire occurred). Some of the people in the pew had been baptized in the Dunbar Parish Church, they had been married in the church, buried loved ones in the church, had their children baptized in the church, they served in the church, they knew every relational skeleton that had been buried in the church. The Elders, when called and elected, were elected and served for life. No time off for good or bad behavior. They knew every pastor who had served in the church, their theological emphasis, their passion or lack thereof, how they served the church and the community, when and why they came and when and why they left. In the midst of all the changes, the good times and the bad times, it was the people in the pew who were the continuity in the church’s life. They were the people of God. It was their church home.
It was this sense of history, of stability, of ownership that oozed from the stones and chairs that made a personal impact on me. Pastors come and go but God’s people stay and work and serve. Pastors change a bit of the direction and tone of the congregation for a bit of time, but the people continue that journey long after any one pastor has gone. Just like an individual who is uniquely and wonderfully made, a church has its own genetic structure that cannot be altered. It can be exercised and directed, it can be ignored and let to atrophy, but until a church dies its genes exist and the church, its personality and purpose, is unique.
I can see why the Apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome:
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. (15:20)
Being a new church development pastor was an exciting adventure. When things succeeded there was no one to blame but me. When things didn’t go as anticipated there was no one else to blame but me. Following the direction of the Lord, I was privileged to lay a foundation. But, I can also understand the words that Paul wrote to the Gentile Christians in Ephesus:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.(2:19, 20)
Having felt the foundation that had been built in the Dunbar Parish Church over the millennium of its’ existence, I understand picking up where others have left off.
This past Sunday I was installed as Pastor of Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian Church. Different from Jackson, Wyoming where I was honored to lay a foundation of ministry upon which others can build, here I am a part of a heritage of ministry within this small coastal community. At my installation the former pastor, Rev. Dr. Ric Neese delivered the installation sermon. What a gift to have a man committed to Jesus Christ, skilled in studying God’s Word, having given 15 years of his life to this congregation, proclaim a message about Jesus always being a step ahead of us, calling us to follow him. I was honored and blessed.
Additionally I was honored to have Rev. Denise Mosher, the interim minister, share a charge to the congregation. Denise had overseen the time during which the congregation took a deep and renewing breath following Ric’s ministry and walked with the congregation as they began to dream where Jesus was calling them to walk now.
And now a new phase of ministry begins. Those in the church chairs and this pastor are forming a team to listen to Jesus and hear where he is calling us to go next. Filled with gratitude for God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ our Lord, we will build upon the unique genetic code that makes us who we are within God’s family. It will be an exciting adventure. It will be great to see who the Lord calls to join us as we follow him.
I am honored to be the pastor who has been called to fill the pulpit and to lead the people who fill the pews of Chapel by the Sea. I am excited to see what the Lord’s next steps are and where they will lead us as we follow him.