A whole bunch of people are working hard to make the Installation service special for me. I appreciate that. I see it as a great show of support.
Ministry is a great joy and has blessed my life much more than I could ever give back. But I am honest enough to admit it also has its tough aspects! Despite my sons’ delight in reminding me I have the best job in the world — I only have to work one day a week, and for a few hours at that — ministry often involves long days without the most tangible or at least recognizable results. Some of those days can also be filled with frustratingly complex interpersonal relationships in a precious, but fragile community. Even more directly, I tell young pastors, ministry also includes some hurt feelings and heavy disappointments, even heartache. On the worst days, it takes patience, stamina, forgiveness and more faith than humans mostly muster!
When I was the Regional Conference Minister, one of my roles was a “pastor to the pastors.” I made it a point to remind ministers that they only get one Christmas and one Easter a year. What I meant was: for all those Sundays in and out, when the crowd is a little sparser than a pastor would hope (there’s always someone you are hoping to see who is no where to be found), there are two services you can count on, even draw strength from.
For us at Old First, it’s Christmas Eve and Easter morning. The crowd shows up in numbers; the singing is strong; faith seems present, even buoyant… and there’s a sense that what the church is doing matters. But the next Sunday after (there’s always a next Sunday after) is usually less well attended than usual!
I still remember that pastor from October 2001, who after the 9/11 crowds disappeared, said to me, “I guess I let them down.” I knew how he felt, even though I reassured him that was not the dynamic or the cause of the return of regular attendance.
So, the high holy days bolster pastors up. All of you in church at one time. The energy of the whole, holy community in one place together. It’s more than the sum of the parts. And these refuel or recharge our reserves.
And, with the installation this Sunday, Christmas and Easter may already be behind us, but I get a third high holy day this year. Thank you for that! And your on-going presence, prayers and helpfulness.
But in its deepest meanings, the Installation isn’t about or even for me. It’s about and for US. It’s the promises that we are making to one another, and with the other churches of the United Church of Christ. Finally, it’s vows made before God.
Almost like a wedding, it acknowledges that there will be good days and more difficult days in our life and work together. But it also promises that remembering and staying true to the vows we’ve made will help us get through the more difficult times.
Why’s it even matter? I mean, pastorates aren’t “until death do us part!” Because God has expectations of us. We are together for a purpose. To accomplish things. To make a difference in individuals’ lives, for this church and in the world.
Ok, installations, like marriages back in the day, used to happen “more at the beginning” than this one is. Because of the three years of Covenant Ministry, one might say we are getting to the installation after having successfully lived together for some years. I am happier as a premarital counselor when couples are already in one home– the conversation is richer because they know what they are getting into! But the intentionality of the vows matters all the same, just as marriage is even important for couples who’ve already co-habited for decades.
See you Sunday (twice if you want!),
P.S. A few of you have asked what an “installation present” might be. I have more stuff than I need. No toasters, please!
If you want to make a gift, there will be an offering for the Philadelphia Association’s work with people preparing for the ministry. And some folks are making contributions to the cost of the reception.
…And Old First always welcomes and does miraculous things with whatever gifts you give, no matter what the occasion. Why we are even about to start a capital campaign!