“From whom all blessings flow; Praise God, all creatures here below …”
The Common Doxology or, Gloria Patri (Latin)
It seemed like the perfect plan, a clergy luncheon at the parsonage so as not to conflict with the Christmas Fair preparations. The telephone rang, “How thoughtful for you to think to invite me … I’d love to come!” The soon to be ordained minister, Judy Macy, has Muscular Dystrophy, and is confined to a motorized wheel chair. The parsonage is not accessible.
A quick call to a fair lady, Martha Elder, who responded, “Not a problem, let me call one person and make sure they can set up later.” George Nickless set up the double-set of tables for 14 guests, pushing the Christmas donations back against the wall. My luncheon quickly became a ‘movable feast’ to make available the Chapel’s handicapped ramp. A quick call to Jane Pearson to help serve the soup, salad, and desserts from the kitchen and we were ready to go.
A pastor called, “John, they have moved the Marathon Bombing Trial up a day … I am sorry I cannot make your lunch … could you give me a synopsis of the program you are running … keep me in mind for the next one?” It was Rev. Jeff MacDonald, minister at 1st Congregational, Newbury who is a bi-vocational minister (Apostle Paul was a ‘tent-maker’). His news coverage of the Whitey Bulger Trial earned him another contract with USA Today to cover the Marathon Bombing Trial. His work in journalism allows him to conduct his ministry.
Phone calls continued … “John, my Parkinson’s Support Group changed to that date at the last moment … my schedule is unpredictable… Give me a synopsis of ‘the re-emerging church’ … put me down for the next luncheon.” And so it went, call after call. Fourteen (14) clergy made reservations to come to the luncheon. Some, as they were leaving their churches, heard, “Pastor, could I speak to you for a moment?” and would not make it. Eight (8) ministers would show up … there was food for 14 … Good News, they ate it all!
In making telephone calls for the luncheon, it was clear that God’s ministry is changing. Pastors spoke of ‘term-contracts’ (a ministry of pre-arranged 5 years before the church and pastor go their separate ways), ‘turn-around ministry’ (a relationship to help a community form a vision of their future ministry), ‘shared-ministry’ (churches sharing a minister who travels between each community) and the “Phoenix Rising Church of Haverhill’ (a five year contract, an experiment, to build a church, member by member). Seventy 70% of the clergy on the Northshore own their home and do not live in parsonages … more and more commute to the communities they serve … their children do not attend the same schools as the children in their churches … their children, taken by their spouses to church, may attend church in their home communities.
While the ministry and pastoral roles are changing, one thing is certain. Each minister spoke with exuberance about their call to ministry. They seem to quote Isaiah 43, “See, I [God] am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” [NIV]
Each pastor, in one way or another, seem to say, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise God, everyone here below.” Each minister celebrated their calls to ministry, the needs of their communities, and their common need for fresh new insights on how to proceed.
Our program for the luncheon (with Rev. Donna Spencer Collins presenting), was on the “Re-emerging Church”. God is calling ministers and churches to be present in the world in new, vital ways. It will happen with increasing prayer, reflection, and creativity.
When the Pilgrims landed on the shores of Massachusetts, they left an England where the existing church hunted them down for their beliefs. The Pilgrims voyaged to a new world, to a place called Virginia. Storm winds blew them off course and they arrived instead at Cape Cod. Their plans were not going well.
God’s plans for them were just beginning. The original settlers of Massachusetts burned bright with a passion that they could build a “New England”. They dreamed of a land where individual consciences would be honored; people would worship freely. They were not sure what the final church would look like, but they were committed to making it wonderful. The Pilgrims, and the Puritans who followed, believed they were a “City Upon a Hill”, an example to the world of what God intended. That faith still burns brightly today.
We can be thankful that people are still called to the ministry, still charting new courses for God’s church. What will tomorrow’s church look like? God only knows.
I hope you and yours had a rewarding Thanksgiving, Rev. John Hughes