Well, I’m back from my conference—three and a half days of amazing workshops, a mini-retreat, friendships new and renewed and expanded, and a testing of my energy and stamina.
As I’ve mentioned, I volunteered to coordinate the worship assistants for the entire conference—the Communion servers and holders and the ushers. You know, there are a lot of logistics involved with that! How do we get Communion to the choir? How about taking up the offering from the choir? How do we get Communion to the people doing the counting of the offering (which, of course, comes right before Communion)? What about getting the Communion elements down from the altar to the holders (they hold the Communion elements while the servers serve the congregation and say the blessing for each person)? How do I find enough of each of those? Luckily, I had many volunteers and when I didn’t have as many people as I thought I needed, the ones I did have pitched in and did what had to be done.
A wonderful side-effect—or maybe it wasn’t a side-effect, but one of the main reasons for the conference—was the affirmation, the support, from my colleagues (shout-out to Rev. Dona here! Thanks for the props!) and our regional elders (roughly = bishop). I don’t think I’m a particularly bright star in the denomination’s firmament, but from the compliments and thanks I received, you would think I was the next best thing. I even had my hands kissed! It was the kind of balm I know my ego needed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who had come there bruised and tired. One friend said she felt better than she had in weeks—and she had been on vacation only a couple of weeks before! The mood of friends and co-worshipers on Sunday morning was much more relaxed, joyful and hopeful than on Thursday evening.
One of the workshop presenters made a point that was a real aha! moment for me. He pointed out that most of our congregants (in the UFMCC), were hurting and battered, psychologically and spiritually. In a mainline church, the proportion is much lower. So much of our work, as pastors in MCC churches, is working with badly hurt people. Unlike many others who work with hurting people, such as chaplains and psychologists and psychiatrists, we don’t have the support and institutional protections and requirements for self-care. We really are at higher risk for burn-out and damage ourselves. As an aside, the same presenter pointed out that most of the people who come through our doors for the first time are already giving church a second chance, having been made to feel unwelcome, despised, or evil in other churches. We cannot fail them. And thus, of course, we have more pressure on us. Listening to all this, I began to understand why my colleagues in UFMCC seem to suffer greater stress than my former colleagues in the UMC. Part of that may also be due to the job security in the UMC, but that’s another issue (UMC pastors are appointed, UFMCC pastors are called by the congregation).
As a result of these few days, I can see many changes I want to make, things I want to do—not all of them easy, and some will get me grief. But I believe they are all things I am called to do as the pastor, and/or that this congregation is called to do. We need, as a congregation, to take that leap of faith and make a difference. Rev. Dona (http://revdonaquixote.blogspot.com/ ) talks about cliff divers. She and I both have plans to take a leap of faith off those cliffs—but in keeping with the covenant of Christian community, we’re jumping together!