Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

James 3:3

"If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well."

Every once in a while I think I may have found a verse that you can't really dig into and find out something new. For a second I thought this was one of those verses like Nehemiah 7:69, "their camels 435, and their donkeys 6,720." And after you get over laughing, even THAT verse reveals the size of herds in ancient Israel and... okay... maybe there isn't a spiritual point in it.

James 3:3 though makes an important point. The purpose of a bit in a horse's mouth is to guide, not to cause pain. The bit sits in a space between teeth so that even when the horse's mouth is shut tight it isn't hurting the horse. In training a child a wise parent will never use the words "Shut up!" even when the free-flow of verbal diarrhea makes the parent feel they may drown in the muck. What we should be doing is channeling all that learning capacity into a series of teachable moments. If the "bit" we put in our kids' mouths is a gentle one they will grow into inquisitive people who really want to engage with their environment in positive ways. If, on the other hand, we squelch their desire to learn or shut them up with TV, or worse, with food, we will soon rue the day we put the bit in their mouth for the pain it causes. I always thought I had been pretty even-handed with my 2 kids. But at a critical time in the grade-school years there were just enough times when I had my younger one, Beth, in the car when I was trying to have a serious discussion with one of the teens I was mentoring where in the moment I told her to sit quietly and read, that she felt, not the gentle bit of guidance, but the painful bit of a parent who simply wanted an immediate outcome. We've discussed it over the years and forgiveness has been offered and received, but I know the hurt was very definitely there, and it is one of the deep regrets of my life.

We all need the bit of guidance. We need to know the discipline of not being so "direct" with people that we hurt them, of not saying "anything that comes to mind". Spontaneity is great at the right time. We all need to learn when the right time is. None of us is perfect. No one is so aware and so gracious that they always say the right thing. Look at the poor guys who are vying for the presidency right now!

I may not agree with everything either of them says, but how would you like to have every word you say scrutinized and discussed and parsed and graded? After the remarkable forum at Saddleback Church, the talking heads actually gave John McCain more points for his choice of the three wisest people in his life than they gave Barak Obama because Obama's list was his grandmother, mother, and wife and McCain's list was a general, a civil rights leader, and a business CEO. Actually, now that I think of it, the two lists are the same! This may seem like a cliché, but in African-American society over the last 50 years or so, very often a grandmother needed to be a general, mom has had to be a civil rights leader, and frankly, black or white, most wives of the post-war 20th century needed to be CEO's.

But now I'm running on. Maybe I'd best put that bit back in my mouth.

Jon

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A New Ministry/New Life

I don't know how many people actually read these musings, but I thought I should take a moment and chronicle the most amazing move of God I've seen in the past couple of years in terms of God guiding Jama and me in ministry and our lives.  

It all started back on May 14th.  That day Jama noticed a church looking for a pastor on MinistryList.com, which is a sort of 'clearinghouse' that mates churches looking for ministry positions of all kinds with people looking for those ministries.  It was a really different ad, and that's why it caught her attention.  They were looking for a 3/4-time pastor (and since I know how to waltz, we figured a little Strauss would be good).   She showed it to me and noted that the next day was the last day to apply.  So as a matter of course I put my name in.  I hadn't been actively looking for a pastorate, but my mentor Bob Frederick (who is 77 and an awesome encouragement to me) and my partner in ministry Steve Poole at Vision New England had been quietly oodging me toward taking a pastorate for months.  I love those guys!  How pushy.  What do they know?  Sheesh.  

So I applied ON the 15th.  

Two weeks later, on a Tuesday, I got an email from the correspondent from the Pastoral Search Committee of Nottingham Congregational Christian Church (a CCCC congregation -- my denomination) asking if they could arrange a phone interview for the following evening.  When they called we talked for over an hour and I felt the great sense of freedom to say exactly what I thought on a wide range of topics.  When I hung up the phone I was excited... and guarded.  I have been through enough search processes to know that a phone call means very little.

Then, about a week later I got an email from the search committee again.  "We like what we've seen and we'd like to go to the next step.  Would you be able to come for a face-to-face this weekend?"  You don't say no to something like that.

I've got to tell you at this point that I resisted the IDEA of my being the pastor of a local church for nearly 23 years.  I was in entrepreneurial ministry -- missions work.  Para-church ministry people rarely have a positive view of the local church and vice versa.  How sad that pride is our necklace.  We ought to wear the perfume of Christ upon our necks and nothing else.  No vain jewelry should adorn that which only the sweet kiss of the Savior should adore.  It seems to me now that God was gently preparing me these last couple of years so that I would become thirsty for the local Body like a man, deprived of his dearest companions for years, who finally one day walks into a pub and there they are!  That first draft with those friends will be the sweetest he ever drank.

Jama and I went up to Nottingham that Saturday unsure of what we were walking into, but already beginning to feel something was percolating.  When we first drove into town it was overcast and threatening rain.  We had asked for clear direction from God.  The deeper we drove into the woods the more nervous we felt.  We were suburban people.  How would I ever work as the pastor of a small church in a small town?  Where would we find friends?  But as I sat with the committee (Jama went and explored during the interview) I just felt... connection.  At the end of the interview they took us upstairs (yes, it is a 2 room church) to see the meetinghouse.  It only seats 120 -- packed.  Again I was nervous about the fit.  As we drove away we had more questions than answers.  All that connection.  What WAS that if we didn't fit in a small town?

Another week went by.  Another phone call.  The committee liked what they saw.  They were arranging for me to preach in a neutral pulpit in Tyngsboro, MA the following Sunday.  Could I be ready in 4 days?  Um... sure.  

All my doubts fled away after the service that morning when Jama and I went to lunch with the committee.  That was when we started to feel "at home".  They liked us and we liked them.  There was no-two-ways about it.   We simply felt something.

At the end of the next week I got the phone call that at this point I was really wishing for: a candidating weekend was being arranged for July 25-27.   We would be put up in the home of one of the search committee members, go to the men's breakfast (Jama went out with some women as well), meet with the finance committee, go house hunting, have a barbeque with the whole congregation followed by a Q&A session.  I would preach on Sunday morning and then meet with the Elders.  By the time the weekend was over we were totally sold.  The Elders meeting didn't feel like I was a candidate.  It felt like it was my first Elder Board meeting as Pastor.   We hugged in the parking lot of the restaurant we met at and there was great emotion felt by all.  We didn't want to leave.  We had come home.

This past Sunday (August 3) the church voted on whether to call me as pastor.  They called just as soon as church was over.  The vote was unanimous -- including absentee ballots.  What a thrill!  

I will begin as Pastor of Nottingham Congregational Christian Church on Tuesday, September 2nd, and I couldn't be more grateful to God for the process, the people, the place, and the power of his love.

Yours in Christ,

Jon