In his classic Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain describes an incident wherein Tom, Huck, and their friend Joe decide to run off to the island in the river where they have a whale of a time being young boys – camping, fishing, imagining – with no thought to the folks at home. After a while, they hear the cannons that indicate a death, and then discover that the entire town believes the three of them have drowned. Unable to resist, they sneak back across the river and into the church filled with mourners. In this chapter, Twain describes how overcome the boys were as they heard the minister draw such pictures of their lives – they hardly recognized themselves, it was so beautiful and touching. He made these ruffians sound so filled with grace and goodness that eventually the boys are unable to contain their grief and so they march down from the balcony to the wonder and joy of all present.
In reflecting on that episode in the days to follow, Tom reckons that perhaps the pastor was a little generous in his assessment of the boys’ lives, but resolves to try a little harder to be the kind of a boy of whom the preacher spoke.
Recently I had the privilege of that kind of a view when members of the Crafton Heights church organized a celebration of twenty years of shared ministry as pastor and congregation. The weekend included a gala “roast” hosted by our friends at the Southminster Presbyterian Church and featuring remarks from Tim Salinetro, Erlina Mae Adler, Brian Zeisloft, Dan Merry, and Stephanie Summers. Glenn Mack did an amazing job as the MC and Sheldon Sorge offered some theological reflection and a bit of worship music at the close. I can’t name all the folks who contributed, but need to acknowledge Barb Prevost, Joann Mikula, and Cheri Mack as the central organizers of the entire affair.
To say that I was humbled would be an incredible understatement. To say that it was hysterically funny would be to sell it short. To say that it was “touching” would be like saying snow in August is “surprising”. It was one of the highlights of my life, and a true joy to see family and friends gathered from the many worlds of my life (relatives, congregants new and old, community members, friends from Malawi and Ten Thousand Villages and so many more…).
The following morning, we engaged in worship (see my post Asaph, Titus, and Us, which contains the message I preached, along with the lyrics to the song penned by my friend Adam) followed by an ice cream social and another chance to enjoy each other’s company.
As we celebrated together, I recalled a conversation I shared some years ago with my friend Kelly, who was then in college. I’d taken a leadership evaluation that required me to score myself in a number of areas and then engage key leaders on the same questions. One of those questions invited us to think about when it might be time to consider vacating the current call and exploring a new one. When I mentioned this question to Kelly, she said, “Well, Dave, what do you suppose you’d do if you weren’t a pastor?”
I smiled, and thought that poor Kelly didn’t understand the question. I explained that it meant “when would it be time to leave this congregation”, not “when is it time to leave the pastorate altogether”.
She persisted and said, “Dave, you know that you couldn’t go somewhere else and just be Pastor Dave in that place. No, if you leave Crafton Heights, I imagine that you’ll have to do something else…be a missionary, or a teacher…You just can’t be a pastor anywhere else.”
She is right, of course. For twenty years, and for twenty-six of the last thirty-one years, living in the 15205 has been the right place for me. A God-ordered and holy place of joy, companionship and growth. I cannot imagine being anywhere else, doing anything else with anyone else.
A few years ago (when I started this blog, in fact), I was launched on a four-month sabbatical from the pulpit at Crafton Heights. The scariest thing about that summer was wondering if I could be just “Dave”, not “Pastor Dave”. I wondered how I would miss that community and that vocation.
I liked the sabbatical. I liked it a lot. And I discovered that I like me pretty well, too – not just my vocation, but myself. Some day, Lord willing, I’ll be finished at Crafton Heights and have time to be me. But I’m awfully glad that that day hasn’t come yet. And, Lord willing, it’ll be a long time from now.
If the folks at Crafton Heights give me a chance, I’d like to stick around a few more years and try to live into being the kind of Pastor and friend that they talked about a couple of weeks ago. After all, I’m not sure I know how to do anything else.
Thanks be to God…and to all who made such a wonderful weekend possible.