I hate to think that I reuse ideas in ministry. I don’t want to be the kind of pastor that does the same thing over and over again. Certainly, in our changing times, that’s not always going to work. But, I really like this particular process of theological reflection that I have used to plan for adult faith formation. (The link isn’t exactly the same process I use, but it’s where it started.) When it started in my last church, I gathered this amazing group of people. Our meetings would go on for hours but they were committed to the process. They loved the amount of sharing. And it was good. It was so good.
So, when the leader that has led this process of planning for adult education didn’t feel he could do it again, I was so excited to step in. Because I loved these meetings. I loved how sacred this work felt. I loved what happened when we shared in this way. You can see I set the table in my office with delight. I was ready for some real holiness. And it was good. I mean, it was OK. There was some really good energy. There were some great ideas but it wasn’t the same.
I miss my old church. Clergy aren’t really allowed to talk about this. We have this professional code of ethics that states in the United Church of Christ, “I will not, upon my termination and departure from a ministry position, interfere with nor intrude upon the ministry of my successor.” That’s murky. It’s not clear what that means. It doesn’t really explain that distinction many pastors make where we are pastors and not friends. It doesn’t explicitly say that our relationships as clergy are complicated with those we serve, but it’s true. I wrote about this when I left my last call. I have been told that my boundaries are too high. Maybe even that I’m too professional. But, here’s the thing that it doesn’t say in that one line in that professional code. Clergy don’t stop caring about those people we have loved when we leave.
I still want to know what’s going on with the two gentlemen that I walked with as their wives died. I love them so much and I miss them terribly, but I got to be there because I was their pastor. And so it’s complicated. I want to hear all about the dating exploits of a particular gay man. I want to carry on the easy conversation we once shared walking on the beach. I want to get the inside track on their search process now that they are looking for a new pastor. But, I haven’t. I can’t. It’s not my successor that I’d be messing with but their future. And I want wonderful things for them. I know that there are amazing things ahead for them but I’m not part of that future. I offered what I could. I loved them through those years that I loved them — holding their hands, looking them in the eye, patting them on the back and hugging them when I could. And I miss them. I miss them like hell. I want to know everything that has happened since I left nine months ago.
I have not stopped lurking on their church website and their Facebook page. I try not to comment. I try not to insert myself but there are things that I have read that I have made me want to race across the country and shake them silly. But, if I keep looking back, I won’t allow myself to be here. And here is pretty good. These are good people. There is good ministry to be done here. It’s not going to do me or this new church any good if I bemoan what I lost. The grass always seems greener. I will always miss them. I will always love them. And, one day, I’ll leave this new church and repeat this cycle. I will think that it was so much easier with them and that there was so much holiness there. But, it’s not true. There is holiness everywhere. God is doing a new thing if only I’m not too stupid to perceive it. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that boundaries have to be firm always. But, right now, I still need to maintain some rigidity. Because if I didn’t, I might not stick around to see what God has to teach me here. And I believe God did call me here. Oy. But it sucks.
Because it’s not just the church aspect. Last weekend, one of my dear friends from Maine sent me a sly text message announcing her engagement. We had been texting about something else and she decided to slip that in. Thus, our text conversation ended and I dialed her number. It was so good to hear her voice. And to hear the story and just celebrate with her even though 3,000 miles now separate us.
That bugs me. I was already missing Maine earlier in the day for reasons I don’t even remember. It was one of those days where I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with myself. I ran several errands. I checked items off that list of grown-up requirements. And then, I longed for a friend. It’s been nine months now, but I still don’t have many friends in this new place — not like I did. (Again: the grass is always greener.) But, God called me here. I can miss friends that are 3,000 miles away. I can lament that I dared to answer another call. I can say it was easier back then. It’s not really true, but I can tell myself that. It won’t necessarily make it better. God invited me to see and do and be something new. So here I am. Jesus help me.