Wow, I am glad this is an anonymous blog! Well, there's a few of you who know who I am, but none who are directly involved in the church...which is a good thing today.
I'm feeling very ambivalent.
We've been struggling here ever since I can remember, but it got very bad--or I looked at more closely--last summer. I had been feeling frustrated and tired for a while, but thought it was more related to working two jobs, being involved in a new relationship, and my community work. I had tried everything I knew and several things that were suggested to me, and they simply were not working. The church was not only not growing, it was stagnating a bit; and everyone in leadership was wearing two or even three hats, nad beginning to burn out. We simply did not have the human resources to carry out our mission.
I began questioning my abilities as pastor, even my call. What had I done wrong? Where could I have done better? How could I fix my mistakes? Should I be a pastor? Should I be a pastor here?
Thanks be to God for Strong Heart, Dona Quixote, and my elder... Together, they helped me to understand that while the buck does stop with the pastor, my job is help people find their call and then help them fulfill it--not to fulfill their call myself, nor to force them to fulfill it. And also that the Holy Spirit is in charge; what happens is in God's hands, not ours. The church did not get this way since I have been here--the last four years--and it's not going to be fixed in four years, assuming that's God's intention for the church.
I have come to the discernment that it is time for me to move on, that my work here is done. I resisted that for a long time, because I know that when I leave, the church will probably close--it's a part-time position and few people can afford to work part-time I can't; I'm working another part-time job). I didn't want to feel responsible for the church closing. But again, my elder and Strong Heart pointed out to me that I was taking way too much on myself. If God is calling me to another place, and God's plan is that the church here stays open, God will provide a way for that to happen. "Trust the Holy Spirit," Strong Heart said.
Of course, my cancer diagnosis put all that on hold for a bit too. I could hardly apply for another pulpit while in active cancer treatment, and in purely practical terms, I needed to stay with the health care plan and providers I had until it was done.
But now it is done (except for the routine follow-ups) and it is time to make a decision. The congregation will meet next month to decide what will happen to the church. For myself, I have applied for a couple of pulpits. I've been short-listed for one and will hear about that congregation's (or their search team's) decision next weekend.
And yet... The last month attendance and giving have been up; interested, energetic people who want to be involved. I left the yard sale today because we had so many people they didn't really need me--and I knew I had work to do, and they needed to feel needed. I have several people who want to join the church...
Of course I will be honest and open with them tomorrow--that we are struggling, but it may be that God has called them here for exactly this reason--to be the new life of the church. Only they can know. And they will be a part of whatever decision the congregation makes next month.
So you see my ambivalence...I am thrilled and delighted by the people who want to join us, but I don't know if there will be a church for them much longer. I know I am being called away, but the flock here needs someone. And I'm eager to seek that flock God is calling me to, but I don't want to leave this one to feel abandoned.
Strong Heart is wise. We knew that our relationship would change when she was called to pastor a church, and it has. Her wisdom lay in asking for that change well before she was actually called--while she was still in the process. This has given us time to come to terms with the change and find our new boundaries and settle into the new shape of this relationship. If we were still in an intimate relationship, I would be even more reluctant to seek a new call--I would want to stay (geographically) where Strong Heart and I could at least attempt to maintain our relationship. But because of her foresight, I am freed (and I think that is the right word) now to seek that call and respond. And if God intends me to be in an intimate relationship, then it will happen.
Hope and sorrow mixed on all sides... New members, but not enough...a changed relationship which I wish did not have to change, but which, in the change, has allowed me to be more available to God's call (and we always said our ministries came first, before our relationship)...a pull to leave, a pull to stay.
I know that, ultimately, all will work to the good God intends if I listen and follow that call. The difficult part is being sure that I am listening to God's voice and not that of my own heart.
My mantra now is "Trust the Holy Spirit." I crave your prayers: for that trust, and for serenity and for hope.