Friday, October 12, 2012
Some advice that is worth,well, not all that much...
I let them know that the weekly Eucharist was where we were headed and that I would not be arbitrary but that neither would they be voting on this. I wore Eucharistic vestments from the get to (neither parish had ever seen them before). I chanted from day one (no previous Pastor had practiced this). I reintroduced the chalice (after one had only had the individual cups and the other had long ago abandoned the chalice). I did not ask or make them bow or genuflect or kneel but I did it consistently from the beginning. I guess I broke all the rules about going slow and winning trust before making such visible and distinctive change. But I also wondered if I accepted what had been and conformed to it, would that be saying to them that I found such, well, sub-Lutheran practice acceptable? Tolerable? And if it were acceptable or tolerable in the beginning why would a Pastor then one day decide to make changes?
In the end I have no advice about introducing change -- especially liturgical change. I was who I am from the beginning. I kind of think they knew I was different from my predecessors. But while I was modeling such things and doing them, I was also doing what the advisors always tell you to do -- love your people, pray for them, be patience with them, teach them, display a sacrificial and pastoral heart to them... I had folks who thought my Sunday morning practices at least a bit odd if not downright weird but Monday night I sat with them at the hospital waiting room and prayed when the news was bad and early Wednesday morning I rushed to the house when their broken hearts and broken lives intersected and postponed a vacation and day off or two or two hundred to remain with them when death left them grieving and alone. When I asked for things I shopped around so that I gave them some choices and options and let them know I wanted the dollar to go as far as I knew they did. I tried to listen as much as or even more than I spoke and often just venting was enough to diffuse discontent. I don't know how to advise this or teach it. I learned it by doing and by failing as well as succeeding in this endeavor.
I have no clue what they tell seminarians today. I was told a bunch of hogwash about people who would follow their Pastor into the burning fires of hell if he so much mentioned it. No one has ever volunteered to go there for me or even with me. But I have learned that the people in the pew are neither impediments to my ministry or enemies. At times, at least in the beginning, I had doubts about this. I hope that those candidates about to be ordained have a bit more realistic idea of what to expect than I did though I doubt anyone can ever be fully prepared for the parish.
Disappointment is inevitable. You have a great setting in Seminary -- good musicians, great preachers, good teachers, fine role models, etc... And then you come out of Seminary to find a parish with a person who had a few years of piano before being told he or she was an organist... and you find out you are not as good a preacher as you thought.... and you struggle and fail to teach like the teachers who taught you... and your role models are far away from where the rubber is hitting the road by you... It is impossible not to flirt with some disappointment and depression the first year or ten. I still do. Despair is, in many ways, the constant companion to parish successes. Maybe it is inevitable. Maybe it is by design.
One thing I will say. Don't ever become a Pastor unless you are convinced it is the only thing you can do. There. I violated my own rule. I gave you some advice that is worth not all that much. Just consider the source and move on to the next blog...