What I've Learned...
I love being the pastor of this church and I adore this community. It was a strange year of ministry, and, like so many things of 2020, we lost out on the fullness of our first year together as we were thrust into the challenges of pandemic and social distancing. I hope that as we learn to be a 2020-sort-of church we can find new ways to more fully know one another as pastor and congregation.
I’d like to share some of what I have experienced with you in our first year together:
Soon after arriving in this community, the tragic shooting-death of a police officer left me standing in front of a whole community of people that I didn’t yet know, during a weeknight prayer service. I discovered a gracious community that believed in prayer and reminded me to pause for personal prayer in the middle of my own chaos of moving and transition.
When I arrived in Abingdon I had been frustrated with the United Methodist Church and frustrated that the bishop did not take my family’s needs into account-- leaving my wife to take a leave of absence. Quite honestly I resented the whole system, but experiencing God’s grace in a community that welcomed our family helped me to learn, again, to trust in God even where I had lost trust in other people.
My experience of those first eight months of ministry in Abingdon was bliss! Everything was a new adventure in this new church and I found myself rejoicing day-after-day. I felt we were on-track for big successes over the course of the first two or three years of ministry together.
Funny how these things would next progress, huh? We heard about COVID-19 outbreaks in other parts of the world. How were we to know that our lives would change so drastically? Who could have known that we would be ordered to stop worshiping in-person?
By April, I found myself re-evaluating what was possible: crossing items off my ‘dream’ list. I came to realize that things I imagined this church tackling in 2, 3, 5, 10 years were likely out of reach due to changing circumstances. Some of those things were my dreams, however. Aren’t I supposed to be focused on discerning God’s dreams for Abingdon rather than imposing my own?
But, despite me, God’s dreams have been made manifest in Abingdon over these past months. When I got out of the way and let go of what I wanted worship to be (in-person, for example): people who never would have joined us in the sanctuary a year ago began worshiping with us on-line. That is a God-sized dream. When I stopped fretting about the ministries that couldn’t happen and we got re-focused on the needs of the community: The Cupboard and Closet was expanded and people were fed. When there was the possibility of great division in the church over whether or not to hold in-person worship services, this church focused on the mission and purpose of the church and, despite personal doubts or ideologies, the leadership found a way forward, together. These are God-sized dreams!
This church has never stopped modeling faith. This is a church that, even in the very hardest of times, has remained true to God, remained committed to prayer, and united as a community. I hope I don’t lose your confidence to tell you that there have been moments where I was crossing a dream off the list...or perhaps feeling inadequate...and this congregation has lifted me up. You have often reminded me to redouble my prayer. I have been reminded that when I am hurt by someone who I trusted, I should trust my God all the more. I am reminded that when I feel alone or disconnected I need to rely on this community because the community has already proven that it is strong and filled with compassion!
I don’t know whether the future will judge that I was up to the task of ministry in this time of pandemic, but I love being the pastor of this church and I adore this community. This church is ready for whatever comes next. It may not be ministry that fits our preferences or looks like it used to. What comes next may or may not be on our list of dreams for the church’s future, but if we remain true to our God, remain rooted in prayer, remain connected with one another, and focus on the true purpose of the church I am certain that we will be successful in attaining God’s dreams for Abingdon!