A Pastoral Letter

A Pastoral Letter June 7, 2009

Sabbatical begins tomorrow, when the look of this blog will change and I will be writing sabbatical reflections.  Anybody with questions about sabbatical may find this page of the blog helpful.  What follows here is part of this morning’s sermon, which was intended to be a pastoral letter a la the Apostle Paul.

Pastor Amy, who tries her best to be a servant of Jesus Christ and often fails, to the saints of Christ Jesus who have been gathered on the corner of H and 8th Streets, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., for 147 years this week, and who faithfully continue to meet and worship together and serve God in the name of Jesus Christ every week.  Grace and peace to all of you, who take the Gospel of Jesus Christ so seriously and who are willing to be a little bit uncomfortable as it unfolds among us.

I thank my God every time I think of you, and I definitely pray for you with joy and usually incredulous laughter, because I have never seen a more diverse or surprising community of faith.  I’m thankful for all of you for so many reasons, but here are a few:

  • You are not afraid to be courageous in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ seriously.  You know Jesus has changed and is in the process of transforming your individual lives, and you work hard at being part of a community that reflects that ongoing work of God.
  • You welcome everyone who wants to follow Jesus here, even people with serious questions and profound doubts.  You make room at the table of Christ for people who are so radically different from each other.  You are often willing to suspend your discomfort and walk for a little while into places that are new and unfamiliar, intentionally living with the knowledge that Christian faith is not uniformity, and that we are richer for our differences.
  • You are not bound by the traditional ways we’ve always done church.  I can’t tell you how thankful I am to be part of a community that will try new things in worship, work hard to integrate the gifts of individuals, and open itself to something new.
  • You give yourselves so generously to the work of God in this place, and for that I am deeply grateful.  Thank you for taking me seriously when I tell you that you should be here, be engaged, give your money, and share your time with this community.  Church is a tapestry of many perspectives and riotous color, but not when church members don’t engage in the life of the community.  So many of you do, and I am grateful.

For these qualities and many, many more, I do thank my God every time I remember you, and feel a deep sense of gratitude and disbelief that I would be so fortunate to learn how to be a pastor with people who know so well how to be the church. 

My prayer for you is that you continue to grow in these and other areas of spiritual giftedness, and that you will readily recognize and celebrate these and other unique qualities that you share. It seems that we all understand: this is a community to which you and I have each been called by God, and our responsibilities to nurture and care for it are not insignificant.  Thank you for knowing that fact and actively living it.

I don’t presume to have any great theological truths to impart to you in this letter, but there are a few things I want to say before I peace-out, as Leah would say.

First, I know you need your pastor; I know you will miss your pastor.  So many of you have been sure to let me know you feel that way.  But you can be the church for the next three months.  You can!  We have all worked hard to make sure all the little pieces of practical concern are in order, so the technicalities of being the church will march on.  And, if one or two balls get dropped, don’t worry.  Today Calvary has been here 147 years!  I think we’ll probably be here in three months. 

Most of all you need to know the theological underpinning that informs this particular point: this is God’s work.  Calvary is God’s church.  You and me?  We’re gifted to be sharing this part of the journey with each other in this place, but God’s great work of redemption, salvation, and transformation goes on and on and on, regardless of the personalities involved.  If we’re feeling a little unease today, that’s okay, because change and shift are always uncomfortable. 

But remember: God is well at work.  God has been well at work long before any of us ever showed up here.  God will be well at work long after we leave this place.  God will hold us, God will hold you in the months ahead.

Second, this church has been gifted with talented and committed staff and lay leadership.  One of your pastors will be gone for awhile but there are many fine and strong leaders who will be here, helping you steer the ship for these three months. 

In fact, your staff and pastoral relations committee have prepared thoughtfully and intentionally for this chapter in the life of our community.  They are ready to be your pastors and your leaders during this sabbatical time.  Please pray for them; please support them in every way you can.  While they have prepared extensively and have the gifts and capabilities to lead you, they will need your support in many ways over the next three months.  You consistently teach me how to be a better pastor; I know you will teach and support all of them.

Third, we all have some spiritual work to do over the next three months.  Sabbatical is an intentional spiritual practice of rest and renewal, of stretching our preconceived ideas about who we are and who God is, and learning to see our lives and our faith in new ways.  Because of the work we all do during this time apart, we will come together again with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the work of this church, and even perhaps with new ideas and direction for our future together. 

We’ve worked to plan programming and worship this summer that will help you recognize opportunities for the spiritual practice of Sabbath.  Please, learn some new spiritual practices and try them out.  Make room in your life and in the life of this community for God’s Spirit to create something new.  When we come back together this fall we will see the fruit of this spiritual practice and we will know better where it is God is leading us as a church.

Finally, when it comes to practical matters:

Don’t stop coming to church; don’t stop investing your time in the work of leadership; don’t stop giving your money; don’t stop inviting people into our community. The work of God in this place cannot suffer neglect or inattention because your pastor is away.  Keep up the good work that God is doing in this place and in your lives.

Please pray for me and for each other.  I will pray for you.  While we are absent from each other, we will all know without a doubt that the Spirit of God who draws us into community is keeping us connected.  Don’t lose sight of that important spiritual perspective and critical faith practice.  And know that I hold each of you in my heart and in my prayers as I am absent from you.

Last, please work hard to take care of each other.  One of my deepest honors has always been the gracious invitations you have extended me to enter into moments of grief, joy, pain and doubt in your own private lives.  Remember, Calvary is a place where you can be yourself, where you can bring your pain and joy and everything about what being human means in your life, and receive love, support, and company as you walk this journey.  Walk with each other even more deeply than you already do; share your pain and joy with one another; be pastors to each other.

As a personal postscript I will say that I am so grateful for this time of rest and renewal.  I confess that, with all the joys of being your pastor, I do often lately feel tired and in need of an opportunity to regroup and remember my own call to serve God, just as all of you must remember yours.  I promise I will honor the time you are giving me by resting and listening for the voice of God in my own life, and I promise I will return with anticipation for what is ahead of us as a community of faith. 

I will also tell you that I have been a little surprised by the emotion that accompanies this short goodbye.  Three months is not so long, I know, but perhaps it has taken leaving to know in a new way how much I love all of you and how you each gift my life with rare and wonderful glimpses of God.  I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

And, as a final blessing, I will say: over the next three months especially, may the Lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  And, may God grant us all deep and abiding peace.

Amen.

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