Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pastoring Alone, Together

I am staring down the end of my fifteen years of ministry up on the hilltop at the Church of the Nativity. As one is want to do on such occasions, I find myself ruminating about the past and fondly remembering the challenges and the joys.

I came across this article in the New York Times titled "writing alone, together" the other day, and it hit me that this would be the perfect title for this blog post dancing around in my head. A complete extrovert, I knew that coming to serve a church on a hilltop in Marin would be a challenge. And it has been. It has been challenging to be the only full-time employee and for the majority of the hours each day, the only person in the church. I have amazing volunteers who come in faithfully each and every morning from ten until noon, and they can tell you how much I appreciate their companionship and ministry.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that people come and go from the hilltop, and it is my pleasure, and by extension our pleasure, to greet and welcome them. From au pairs with their toddlers coming to use the playground, to artists painting a landscape, from hikers with their dogs, to homeless people seeking help, all are welcome in this place, as the hymn we sang this morning testifies.

Still, selfishly, I had to learn, the hard way, that in order not to find myself isolated and lonely, I needed to either get people to the hilltop or get off the hilltop myself. Many of my introvert colleagues would be envious, but I find too much alone time depressing and downright lonely. So I have found a way to cobble together errands and home visits, coffee with colleagues, lunch at the church with our Marin Clergy, skype calls with colleagues around the world. And this cobbling together has made all the difference.

As the transition happens at Nativity and the congregations of St. Francis, Redeemer, St. Paul's and Nativity intentionally discern what kind of future they might have together, the phrase "pastoring alone, together" keeps coming to mind. There is something powerful, when doing one's own work and ministry, to know that there are others doing the same thing, even if not in the same location. Frankly, the idea of a "pastors' hive", like a writers' hive, is a very appealing notion and one not unknown to clergy on large staffs of churches. Or call it a collective, a collective of pastors where everyone is working on their own work and in doing so together, lending energy, and encouragement and support to the mutual endeavor.

As I go about my newest spiritual practice, creating Morning and (now) Evening Prayer images on Instagram as part of my prayer life (see the newest photo box at the top right of this blog!), I am reminded of that continuity of prayer which connects us all the time. And I am reminded of George Herbert's words, last verse of one of my favorite hymns, to the tune of General Seminary:

Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven, I can raise thee.
Small it is in this poor sort to enroll thee;
e'en eternity's too short to extol thee.

The hilltop is still challenging for me, but the years here have done wonders for my understanding of a life of prayer. Thanks be to God's economy, who gives us what we need and who does not waste anything, not one single thing.

Down by the creek, at Nativity

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