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May 16, 2015

A Visit with a Friend

Today I went to see one of my friends that I hadn't seen in a long time.  It also happened to be the first time that I went to prision.  My friend, Craig, was incarcerated during my first year at the seminary.  It was great seeing him, but it was also quite a journey and experience.  

First, it took about seven to eight months for me to get approved from the first time I applied.  Second, once you're approved and you show up, the guards aren't very helpful.  I had no idea what to do, but the other visitors took me under their wing to help me out.  I was very thankful for that.

Being processed was pretty much like you'd expect.  I went through a medal detector (I wasn't allowed to bring ANYTHING in, other than some money for vending machines and my car keys) and had to fill out some paperwork.  Then, I was stamped with ink that could only be seen by black light.  After that, the group of visitors were ushered into a gateway with bars on either side.  Once we all showed our stamps to the guy in the guard station, the door opened and another guard led us to the visitor building.

The building was not how I expected it.  It was too long rows of chairs.  The best way to describe it would be to say it's like you are waiting in an air port for a plane.  Anyway, because it was minimum security it was very easy to forget you were in a prision.

It was great seeing Craig though.  It was good getting to talk to him.  Though the circumstances were not preferable, he was appreciative that this has happened.  It's amazing how it takes something major in your life for you to reevaluate things.

I myself have been there.  I know how it can be like to hit rock bottom.  When I've reflected, I have seen how mistakes I've made could have landed me in some really bad spots.  They were life changing moments for me.  I wouldn't be where I am today without them.

Craig has come to the same conclusions.  He knows he messed up.  He know he's made mistakes.  The difference is now he's labeled, and will forever have a stigma.  Even this, though, he has accepted.  He has accepted this all by the grace of God, and he knows that God is in control.

It's amazing to see someone's faith in God only be strengthened when they are faced with their own sinfulness and the mistakes they have made, and the consequences that come with it.  Please pray for Craig as he finishes out his sentence and tries to get back to normal life.  Thank you.

May 4, 2015

Lessons from Vicarage that Classes Couldn't Teach

Now don't get me wrong, the seminary does the best they can to prepare you for the ministry.  There is even more to the seminary than simply classes that help form you for the task ahead.  Yet even still, just as with basic training, there are some things that you can't learn until you are in the heat of the battle.  And it is true that pastors are in the midst of a battle.  As the battle rages on around us, pastors see many things.  We see some great victories, and we see some horrific casualties.  No matter, the battle presses on.

Vicarage is really the first time that we get to see the battle first hand.  Sure, we have fieldwork, but that is more like basic training, where you are learning the basics for surviving out in the field and advanced individual training in your area.  One of the things that they teach us in the classroom is about the ministry of presence.  The idea is that sometimes, all we need to do is be present and nothing more.  Often, the ministry of presence is evident in situations such as the death of a member and the funeral.  Usually, your mere presence is more comforting than any words that you could say.

In those situations, it is rare that the pastor will come out of the battle completely untouched.  This is quite well understood.  The mere fact of the enemy of death being so close, even present in the sanctuary of life, and the wounds of grief that the family experiences has some affect on the pastor no matter what.

While this is a self-evident example of the ministry of presence and the wounds it leaves, there is much more to this ministry, and this battle, than the obvious.  That is one thing that I am learning while on vicarage, and this lesson is looming large over my life as I have less than two and a half months left of vicarage.  As a pastor (or vicar) you engage in the ministry of presence every time you interact with the members.  Each time you engage in this ministry, you build a relationship with them little by little.  Eventually, these relationships spill over outside the walls of your church as you interact with your members elsewhere.  Over time these relationships become quite meaningful as you open yourself up to these people and they open themselves up to you.

Having been here for nine months, I have started to develop several of these relationships within the congregation.  Just yesterday we had a send off for one of these families as they were heading to New Mexico.  Unfortunately, I was not able to be here as another aspect of ministry called me away.  It broke my heart that I was unable to properly say goodbye and see them off.  When I arrived to work today, I had a card and a gift sitting at my desk, and I nearly cried as I realized that they were now really gone.

However, it's not over.  In just two months and eleven days, we will be ripped from this congregation as Marie, Levi and I head back to St. Louis.  This time it will not be only one family I will be saying goodbye to, but everyone here who have all found a place in my heart.  Talking about the ministry of presence doesn't really prepare you for the seemingly innocent times when you must say goodbye.  We don't talk about the wounds we will face from leaving a peace of your heart with a congregation you must leave.  While I am excited to be reunited with friends and finish out my schooling, it is going to be extremely difficult to say goodbye.

What helps, though, is knowing that it is not good bye forever.  While it is true that I may see these people again in this life, I know I will see them again when Christ returns.  Friends in Christ are truly friends forever.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings that you have given to me in and through this congregation.  Please be with the people are Our Redeemer and with my family as we head into these last couple months of vicarage.  Help me to continue in the ministry of presence, and to not recoil from fear of being hurt when I leave.  Help me to love them as you love me, and be with them and among them until my departing day.  And when that day eventually comes, be with us as we say our goodbyes.  Help us to grieve the loss of presence, but to also take hope in the promise that You have given to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  In Your name I pray, Amen.