A couple of months ago, someone jokingly asked me, “how does it feel to be Job?” I replied by saying, “I’ll let you know when God finishes restoring all that has been taken.” There’s no denying or pretending this hasn’t been a complicated year personally and for our church community. It would be farcical not address it in my preaching, writing, daily living. God doesn’t need or want us to pretend everything is “great” or even “ok” when its not. That doesn’t honor God or demonstrate our discipleship. Being transparent as we live through our difficulties and broken spaces, being honest about our feelings and pressing deeper into our trust in God during the pain and uncertainty does.
I begin writing this month’s article with the great hope that in the next week or so I’ll be back in the parsonage and that my own life and the life of the church will be moving forward. I pray that we are becoming stronger for the year we have walked through together. About a year ago, as a church family, we started grieving the losses or imminent losses of people we deeply loved in our community. We had several months of saying, ‘until we meet again in heaven’ to people. Our denomination reached a critical point, and we watched local UM churches turn on each other and viciously tear each other, and themselves, apart. Though EFUMC emerged unscathed, healthy, and perhaps even more united, we watched people we love become displaced from their faith communities.
Personally, since October of 2022, the renters in my San Antonio home abandoned the house and left significant repairs to be completed in order to find new renters. I have lost both my brothers in unexpected deaths 8 months apart (November 2022, July 2023). The parsonage burned in an accidental fire that also took the lives of my beloved pups, Eli and Grace. All of these situations came with their own on-going complications and grief, let alone compounded grief by happening so closely together.
Through it all, this church, this family, this community has cared for me. You have taken care of the things you could, from packing up the house, moving me a couple times, blessing me with financial gifts, and making sure all my immediate needs were met. You sent me on a vacation in May to spend time with my sister to help me heal. You sent cards, texts, and emails. You’ve hugged me and cried with me. You trusted me to keep leading the church and celebrated me as your pastor with a beautiful service and luncheon.
We have put a lot on hold during the last 12 months in order deal with the real-life, real-time crises that were happening in our community both as a church and individually. Though we had started to gain momentum in different areas of ministry, church work, and outreach, we just sort of set those new things to the back burner to do what needed to be done each day. Now it’s time to start claiming new ground, to move forward. I was deeply blessed and challenged by our church planning/visioning retreat. It’s time. We’re ready to start taking new steps, to expand our ministries and reach into the community.
I want to take a moment offer my deepest gratitude for all the ways you are taking care of me. I also want to offer my deepest apologies for all the things that got put on hold, slipped through the cracks, and to those of you who were hurt by it.
Please continue to pray with me daily at 2pm using a simple breath prayer. On the inhale, “Lord, fill us with your Spirit.” On the exhale, “Show us what you have next for us.”
It’s time to follow God forward. To borrow a line from Jerry McGuire, “Who’s coming with me.”