She knew it was over. She knew it was over. Right then as she followed the Head Deacon out of the narthex toward her office, Lexi knew that this was the end. Her heels clicked across the floor with an unexpected certainty. It was then she knew that her days in Corinth were over. She had served this small congregation faithfully. They had tried to make it work. She had tried to be the pastor they so desperately wanted but she couldn’t be that person – not for them or herself. Lexi didn’t know what awaited her once her office door was closed. She couldn’t think of anything that she had done wrong – but already knew that whatever she had done had not been right.
Standing in the narthex of the church on the last summer day of July, Lexi shook hands with the few and the proud that had come to worship that morning. With each handshake, she heard the typical comments.
"Thanks for worship today."
Lexi hated these comments. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know what made her sermon so "nice" or why someone would thank her for worship when it was supposed to be the work of the people. And yet, she couldn't allow herself to get lost in these thoughts. She was greeting her church family. She was grateful to be among them.
The God of the Wilderness calls to me during the summer. She is a beckoning God. She wants me to abandon all responsibility to praise her radiant glory. She is determined to spoil me with a golden glow and abundant warmth. Alas, she can only distract me from my office window. She is still calling – but so is the blinking light of the church phone.
A message beckons to me from my voicemail, insisting that I ignore the God of the Wilderness that it seems every church member has rushed to worship. As June approached, the members of this small congregation carefully informed me that they would look forward to seeing me in September. They would miss their church, but their [insert summer retreat] awaited them. And so, I wondered, who could have left me a voicemail? If the whole church family has disappeared to worship the Son of Righteousness, who could be calling?
My computer sang that familiar tune. I am compulsive about checking email. It doesn’t seem to matter what I am doing when that song begins. I instantly minimize the open document on my screen and jump into the inbox of my email account. It is almost always a church member -- unless the beloved denominational Mother Ship is zooming out new resources that never seem to translate into our small congregation in Corinth. I prefer the emails from church members who type to share a lingering thought from worship. I love when they send a typed gratitude to thank me for calling when they missed worship.
When my computer sang then, I clicked the message open to inhale its contents. It was an email from Nina. She wasn’t in church on Sunday. She hasn’t been in church for several weeks.
I could fall in love with a politician. I did. It happened. As forbidden and secret as it may be, it is the secret that I keep tucked in by my political hope at night. But they don’t make a t-shirt that celebrates the love of retired clergy. If they did, I wouldn’t wear it because this man is my nightmare.
I don’t really remember how it started. I don’t think I was sent to bed without dinner. I can’t imagine that this sort of nightmare emerged from the recesses of my brain. Perhaps this is the kind of mischief that arrives in your third month in ministry. This may be the testing that one must endure in the wilderness of the third month of a call. Or this could just be the unfulfilled grief of a miserable old man.
I’m in love!
Oh, don’t get too excited. I’m not in love with anyone I’ve actually met. . .or am likely to meet. This love is a secret love, which is something juicy for me to savor. I’m not telling many people and definitely not telling members of my congregation. They are very kind to me, but I think they would find this love of mine polarizing.
Yes, that’s right, I’m in love with a politician. A candidate, actually. A candidate for President. And I can’t tell ANYONE! I want to shout my love from the rooftops, proclaim it in the pulpit, but I also don’t want the IRS breathing down my neck. I feel very strange being in this position. I used to love politics. As a kid, I made my own campaign buttons out of card stock and contact paper. But the last few years, politics has been so stressful, so filled with vitriol and betrayal and power grabbing that I just haven’t been able to bear participating.
OK, so it was a cheesy children’s sermon anyway. Though most children’s sermons—or at least the ones I give—come that way, this was particularly so. But it was Easter—my first ordained Easter!—so amidst all the preparations for Holy Week services, and especially my much-anticipated Easter sermon, I grabbed the first half-decent object lesson I found. At least the adults would like it.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
The lyrics of our final hymn at the Christmas Eve service rang in my ears as I peered into the cold silent night outside the church doors. After closing the doors to this holy night, I blew out the candles that had lit our way to the birth of peace. I gazed out the window to wonder about this tender and mild child that tore open the heavens and came down incarnated in Corinth.
It had happened again. Jesus Christ was born again this day. The mysterious wonder of the incarnate had torn through the heavens as the prophets had hoped. And yet, as I blew out the candles, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed. We have been waiting for this for the past four weeks. We’ve been preparing for this miracle of birth as Jesus came through the birth canal. We’ve gotten ready for this moment when he was named King over the powers that be, this helpless child over the State, over the ones who loved to oppress. We have been waiting these days for justice to reign. And yet, as I settle into my new home and see this world with new eyes, I wonder about this silent night.
As I blew out the last few candles, my breath mingled with the lyrics of the familiar hymn.
Another Wednesday night meant another class to teach. Diving into the texts with the enthusiasm of a young child going for the baby in a King’s cake was how I wanted to spend my Wednesday nights. When I arrived in Corinth, I wanted more than anything to share my find with others. I wanted to see what treasures they had found. I loved the rich conversations emerging from shared moments of clarity. And now, it was Wednesday again and last week’s “ah-ha” moments were not as comforting.
Last week had been filled with blank stares. The last few weeks had not been the stuff of comfort. We had been studying the Pastoral Epistles with a companion study guide chosen before my arrival to Corinth. Wednesday night came to mean studying some of my least favorite parts of the Bible with study material that had never heard of different learning styles or this new fangled thing called “inclusive language.” My all-around lack of excitement had been catching even to the most dedicated churchgoers (in other words, our older and more stalwart folks).
The silence of my prayer was replaced with the noise of the narthex. The hymns were sung. The people were blessed. And now, it was time to share in the joy of being together as the congregation participates in the exodus from the sanctuary to the promise of the Parish Hall.
Babies wake up from the sermon, and the silence fades. The squeals of the children just released from Sunday School nearly drown out the mutterings of “good sermon” and “thank you for worship.” Familiar faces sojourn to coffee hour while insisting I must remember their names. My laughter mixes with the hesitant laughter of visitors. Hands are held. Hugs linger too long. Shoulders are touched. The silence disappears.
Only for a moment, the silence disappears. Only for a moment, there is a clamor of giggling children and a racket of slurping adults. The clatter continues until the Parish Hall empties and I am left to lock the doors.
And then it becomes silent and still once again. My distress grows worse, and my heart becomes hot with me as the silence returns. This silence is not like the stillness of prayer. Those are moments that I crave. I need that respite from the insistence of so many demands screaming incessantly. I need that sacred time to be still and know that God is in the silence. This is precious silence. It is not the same silence that greets me with the click of the lock in the church doors.