The Call

Lucknow CCRC

Lucknow CCRC

This morning, the Lucknow Community Christian Reformed Church called me to be their pastor. It seems a little surreal.  My was name put before folks who are, and have been, part of my life, some of them for fifty years. They overwhelmingly supported a proposal to have me to fill a position left vacant in June when our former pastor, effective and very well loved, moved to follow a call to another congregation.

This church, is my home church. I grew up in it;   been part of it for all but a few years since 1963. I preached for the first time here when I was seventeen, coached by a forward thinking youth elder, supported, way back then, by a council who must have seen something in a young man to allow him the pulpit.

I’ve been active in this church, served on it’s council as an elder through some hard times, which led to times of blessing. I was blessed to be part of the youth program for many years, and through this ministry taught weekly and led youth services. It is the folks in this church who helped me to recognize God given gifts, encouraged me to develop those gifts and ultimately use them. They’ve walked along side me and J as health issues led to career changes and ultimately a return to school. They’ve continued to be supportive as I have preached these past couple of years at times when the full time pastor had to be elsewhere. And now, they’ve offered to hire me as their interim pastor, a bi-vocational interim pastor on a two year contract, to lead them in this period between full time pastors.

Today’s call is the next step on a journey toward ordination, the place where this road I am on seems to be leading. even more so today as a door is thrown wide open, inviting, even encouraging me to walk through to the next steps on this trip.

 

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Worldview

Image:truthandscience.net

Image:truthandscience.net

“Worldview”, the first time I heard this phrase was in the office of a campus chaplain at a Canadian university. My fiancee, J, and I were there for premarital counselling. We were young students, in our second and third year, looking forward to sharing our lives together, dreaming of adventure, and an exciting career in the world of agriculture. We weren’t all that interested in understanding anything about our worldview, what it was or should be, and after three sessions, where we also planned our wedding service and wrote our vows to each other, we didn’t come much closer to actually understanding what this very well-meaning pastor was talking about, what “worldview” meant.

This particular pastor was likely a little ahead of his time in the Christian Reformed landscape of 1980, trying out new terminology, and concepts, on his student congregation. The Contemporary Testimony hadn’t been written yet, applying the CRC’s understanding of God’s sovereignty in real terms to real life. We intrinsically understood the concept, since we both grew up in very Kuyperian atmospheres, interacting with, and transforming the world were givens, but we lacked the tools to be able to draw from ourselves a description of our individual worldview. Maybe we were surprised that everyone didn’t see the world as we did, didn’t understand the concepts of career and calling, industry and stewardship, pleasure and piety in the same way we defined them.  We wore our worldview like a skin, it was who we were, not something we had thoughtfully delineated for ourselves.

It’s because we wear our worldview like a skin that it is hard to describe. We have difficulty being self aware at all levels of our lives. I sometimes find myself surprised when I look in the mirror. The person looking out at me, the one seen by others, is not the same as the image of myself I hold in my own mind. The way I would describe my voice is different than  what I hear on a recording of myself. Even the way I would describe my temperament is likely quite different from the way others experience me. My worldview, unlike my appearance or voice or temperament, defines more than the way in which others perceive me. It defines how I react to the situations around me, to the actions and ideas of others, even to others without actions or ideas. My worldview is sort of like my constitution, and as such, I should be able to describe it, shouldn’t I?

In reality, I can now vocalize some of the aspects of this interior description of myself, my worldview. I can do it much more thoroughly than I could have over thirty years ago when hormones and life were propelling me down the road, bounded by ditches which were in fact my world view. We had our heads up high, looking to the future, too busy to be trying to describe what those ditches look like.

The End of Something

Last night marked the end of something. Just around 10 pm I left the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, having finished the last class of my MDiv at the school. I’m not totally done, since there are still a few weeks left on an online course from Calvin seminary, part of the requirement for the degree, but my time as a physical student has come to an end.

I’m conflicted about it. On the one hand, there should be a sense of jubilation, of a task accomplished, of anticipation, as the next steps on this journey present themselves. I do feel some of those, but they are overshadowed by the feelings held in the other hand, feelings of uncertainty, loss of identity (again), loss of relationships I have come to value highly, and loss of the regular affirmation coming from assignments and papers returned and appreciated. There’s lots of loss to temper the joy.

I don’t think I felt this way when I graduated with my BSc. over thirty years ago. Then, I was going to rush out and change the world, make my fortune, throw myself into all of the excitement, and challenge, the world has to offer. Relationships built there were quickly lost, as J and I ran down the road toward an endless future full of possibilities. Somewhere along the line we’ve realized our own immortality, found out we aren’t as “in charge” as we thought we were, and, while possibilities and excitement are still achievable, they are not as important as they once were.

The class last night was “Grief Crises & Pastoral Care” and I recognize I am grieving. The grief process ends with a realization of life going on, moving forward. I know this, but just for a couple of days, I need to hold this feeling of loss, recognizing the important things which are now gone, now over, and find ways to move to the next stops on the journey.

One of those stops, along with all of the other possibilities, is indeed more school. The seminary has accepted me in their MA Theological Studies program. This program will allow me to use the extra credits I’ve earned.

The candidacy process, by the way, is complete as well.

Next Step to Candidacy

There are lots of little (and big) steps in the candidacy process, the road to ordination, in the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA). One of them is to write a short piece describing the journey, so far, or a statement of faith. I decided the journey piece was more appealing. This piece is published in a booklet, along with those of the other fifty plus candidates, with a picture, some biographical information, and a short statement giving your reason for wanting to be ordained in the CRCNA. The whole thing acts as a catalogue of sorts for churches interested in calling a candidate, so you are supposed to sell yourself a bit.

Here’s what I wrote. It’s not submitted yet, so if you have suggestions to cover any bits I’ve missed, but seem necessary, I’d love to hear them. Grammar and spelling suggestions are great as well. 🙂

Just yesterday, having arrived early to lead worship in a nearby Christian Reformed Church, I had a conversation with a woman I had come to know through my role as a youth leader in our church and classis. We had not seen each other for a number of years. As we talked about the happenings in my life, the returning to school, the letting go of full time work, the preparation for ministry,my doubts and fears, she said, “ You’ve been on this road for a long time; I’ve seen you on it.” She is a perceptive woman. I have been on a this road for a long time and wonder, sometimes, why God didn’t push me a little harder, earlier, maybe draw a clearer picture for me of the ultimate destination of this journey.

The journey has been a long one, full of experiences, full of various types of ministry. I can describe myself as husband, father, and grandfather; as farmer, agricultural consultant, and business manager; as elder, committee member, youth leader; as ecumenical community leader, community youth worker, and soup kitchen volunteer; as perpetual student, voracious reader, vocal musician; as leader, orator, and teacher. Through each career, each gift, each experience, God has continually equipped me for further ministry, further work in the kingdom. The journey led to seminary and to candidacy, preparing me, and calling me, to go further down the road ahead.

I believe completely in the fact that God has a plan for my life, my work in God’s kingdom here on earth, and for the church in the world.  I have, from time to time, felt a gentle, or not so gentle, nudge to move me out of the comfortable places and back on to the road. The move to enroll in seminary and now to approach candidacy, is not the beginning of a new journey, but, the continuation of an old one, admittedly with new skills learned and old gifts strengthened, but it is the same journey of gratitude that began many years ago when a youth elder suggested I lead the annual youth service in our rural Ontario church. The message of hope I brought then, hope in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ, justification, offered to us by grace, accepted through the gift of faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is still the same today.

I trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, will continue to push and prod, to point the way. Through God’s grace, I am on a journey whose destination is totally unclear. I’m thankful for that; thankful that it is not up to me to set the ultimate objective, to visualize the future, to save souls. Those things are in God’s hands and all I can do is listen, and follow.

Birthday, Baptism, Bounty

What better gift could one get on their birthday than to be part of the baptism service of a grandchild. Sure, it might mean that my “special day” is over shadowed, but, who really cares? I’ve had lots of birthdays where the gift of grace has not been highlighted nearly as much as it was today, where the gift of life has not been the center, where God’s faithfulness was not as clearly remembered.

God’s faithfulness was clear today. We felt it as the pastor played with the water in the baptismal font, urging us to remember our own baptism. We saw it in the baptismal gown that Daniel wore, a fairly plain, sixty-nine year old, dress that has served three generations before him (I wore it and so did his mother). We felt it as we gathered as a family from various places in North America to join with the congregation in Edmonton in a pledge to help to raise Daniel to know and love his Creator and Savior.

It was a gift and a privilege to sing the words of Psalm 139 with my youngest daughter accompanied by a wonderful pianist. “Help me walk on, Help me walk on, Help me walk on  where you are leading.”

I have been blessed. God is faithful.

And….there was cake.

Symposium Day Two

Day two of the Calvin Worship Symposium was just too big to adequately summarize in a short blog post. Beginning with a very moving morning service, led musically by John Bell and the Psalm Project in which Anne Zaki masterfully took the words of praise found in Psalm 113 and applied them to our messy lives with the picture of a God who stoops down, followed by a plenary address by Walter Brueggemann which brought the crowd to their feet in gratitude, the morning was wonderful.

The Worship Symposium Graphic

The afternoon was filled with workshops. Again the presenters I saw included “big” names.  N.T. Wright and Tom Long did not disappoint bringing their wisdom and experience and sharing it generously.

I ended the day with a Taize vesper service of simple repeated (and repeated) songs that became something of a chant in their repetition and, in the fact that we were invited to sing in various languages, making the experience even more meditative and chant like, since the person beside you was repeating different words. The service included long (5 minute) periods of silence, something that we are not accustomed to. It was uncomfortable in many ways, but maybe worship should not always be comfortable.

The program along with the time spent with old friends, new friends, and family (there is a good contingent of family here) has been worthwhile. The evening ended with a couple of hours of conversation with my mentors and a few more words on Sunday’s sermon.

Reminiscing

This past week, for some reason, my daughters have been looking at the past, at least one of them with some sense of fondness. Both are bloggers. One of them maybe got the thing started with a characteristically oblique post followed by the other with a more eloquent offering.

The house in the 50's

Their posts revolve around our old house. Both of them posted the same picture from an era well before the time that we lived in it. It was a big old farm-house, home for our family for eighteen years. Our youngest daughter was born there. The other two children may have vague memories of other places, but this house would have figured largely in their lives. It was home.

When we moved in it was livable for a family that was trying to start a farm life and  willing to put up with less to make that happen, but really, it was a mess. The windows throughout the house were in bad condition. The frame addition that housed the kitchen and bathroom was sided with rotting painted particle board. There was little insulation. The oil bill was high and we actually did not heat most of the house. A wood stove in the kitchen kept us warm during the day, blankets did the job at night.

As we left it

Over the years we did renovate and fix. If we were doing it today we’d likely have a renovation blog. As it is, there are virtually no before and after pictures and those  there are only happened because we were taking a picture of somebody. There were no digital cameras back then and film was too expensive to waste on remembering what we wanted to get rid of. The house was entirely gutted in three stages over about eight years. A new kitchen and bathroom were installed. All the windows were replaced. The particle board was covered with siding. Two new porches were built. We put on a new roof. The carpets were pulled out and the wood floors underneath were sanded and refinished. A new wood stove, furnace and water heater were installed. Heating bills went down. We started to use the whole house.

It was more than just a house

At the same time, we built barns and sheds and a silo. We built a life and a business. It was a business that allowed us to work together as a family (code for child labour). While money was always an issue since there were more ways to use it than places for it to come from, this time in our life was a good one. We raised our family, we learned together, we dreamed together.

But, life moves on. Life throws curve balls that are unexpected, that change the direction that you think you are supposed to go. So we moved on. We were blessed in that moving as well. Somehow God gets the message through that its time for the next step.

There are things about that time and place that I miss. They are not the same things that my kids may reminisce about. I miss the dreaming, the sense of possibility, the sense of working with, or against nature, and succeeding. The sense that next year would be the one when things would come together. I miss the order of the seasons and the work plan that they wrote. I miss the common cause that J and I once had, every day, on almost every front.

But, I don’t really miss the house.

Genesis 12:1-3