Monday, June 14, 2010

Perspective... The Helpful Lens of Experience

Though we do not talk about it much, many Pastors experience something of a depression after ordination and installation into the first parish.  I know I did.  I was accustomed to the liturgical life of a Seminary campus and a congregation with an inspirational liturgical history.  I had been surrounded by wonderful musicians and wonderful church music.  I had listened to great preachers and great sermons.  I had been on the receiving end for a long time before the responsibility shifted to me.  And when I ended up was a parish with a monthly and then twice monthly Eucharist, a well intentioned by poorly trained organist, a willing folk choir with their own repertoire (most of which I had never heard before), and a parish which had become deliberately less Lutheran over the years.  It was a shock to wake up and realize the wonderful services of Kramer Chapel and Redeemer on Rudisill were gone and I was left with something less than ideal.

The truth is I was depressed for months.  I did not show it to the congregation because I did not want to blame them for my disappointment and disillusionment but every day it was a labor just to show up.  I knew that my wife was similarly depressed though we did not talk as much about it as we might -- perhaps fearing bringing the other down in our sea of discontent.  We were new to the area, we had no friends, we were viewed with curiosity from the parish (which had heard of charistmatic, bronze age, Protestant, and evangelical Lutherans before but had never encountered a liturgical and confessional one).

It was a good thing that a call did not come one year, two years, even five years into that time.  Without a call and an escape, I was left with the prospect of making the best of our disappointing situation.  Slowly and surely the parish began to see their Lutheran identity as a help and not a problem.  Slowly and surely the preaching from and to the Eucharist began to raise their expectations of the Sacrament and their awareness of the Sacrament of the Altar as the fountain and center of their spiritual lives and parish mission.  Slowly and surely the conflict of the past with its bitterness gave way to some friendliness and reconciliation.  With the help of a wise Bishop (Ron Fink), two wonderful circuits of wise and faithful Pastors, and a willingness to dig in and do what it was going to take... and the disappointment and depression began to wane.  I learned the art of seeing things in perspective.  I saw the parish for what it was but also for what it could be.  By honestly addressing what was there, I could also honestly address what the future might hold.

We spent some 13 years there and the parish was very different when I left than when I had arrived.  But I was very different as well.  The helpful lens of experience had given me the gift of perspective and it worked to help me see who I was and what my place was in the life of this congregation.  It gave me a point to start from and a realistic yet optimistic view of what might unfold by God's blessing and grace.  And it has served me well... into this parish also.

Unfortunately some new Pastors never stay long enough to learn this lesson on perspective and do not let their experience grow and shape them as well as their parishes.  I wish for all Pastors this lesson of perspective, the learning that comes through lens of experience...


RobbieFish said...

Thanks for this.

Tapani Simojoki said...

I am newly ordained and therefore unqualified to comment, except to say that what you write is a great comfort.

In seminary, I remember being struck by Eugene Peterson's suggestion that truly effective parish ministry begins after the first seven years.