October 5, 2020
Let us go now to the banquet,
to the feast of the universe.
The table's set and a place is waiting;
come, ev'ryone, with your gifts to share.
May we build such a place among us
where all people are equal in love.
God has called us to work together
and to share ev'rything we have. Refrain
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #523 v. 3]
The readings for Sunday, October 11, 2020, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
October is Pastor Appreciation Month.
If ever there was a year to express appreciation for your pastor, this is it. The year 2020 has been filled with endless challenges for your pastor. In addition to her/his pastoral duties, the pastor has had to learn to embrace technology, something that is not taught in seminaries, in order to reach the many that have not been able to worship in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world.
Early on in this pandemic, I began holding electronic weekly meetings with pastors. The biggest lament that I heard during those conversations, was their inability to provide adequate pastoral care due to the restrictions imposed by health care institutions and government officials. They were genuinely grieved that they couldn't visit the sick and homebound, to comfort those in pain, to accompany those who were lonely or sad, to conduct proper funerals. Of most critical importance was the inability to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion to those who needed a sign of God's forgiveness.
The adjustments many have had to make have been nothing short of phenomenal. They have learned to preach to cameras in nearly empty sanctuaries in order to proclaim God's word to those who were sheltering at home. They have spent endless hours learning skills that go beyond normal pastoral expectations, primarily out of love and concern for the people they serve.
It hasn't been an easy road. Not every church member has been cooperative. Though it is nothing new, dealing with difficult church members has required a lot more sensitivity than usual. The frustration often takes a toll. Many pastors are exhausted, exasperated, and emotionally drained.
The rate of clergy burnout under normal circumstances is astounding. An August article in the New York Times reported that, "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."
It is important to encourage pastors to take time off. Many have neglected the basic need for self-care, especially in these times of uncertainty. I rarely miss an opportunity to remind them that it is frequently stated in the Gospels that Jesus often went off by himself to rest and to pray.
Northeastern Ohio Synod Ordination, August 27, 2016, Zion Lutheran Church, Youngstown, Ohio
Scripture calls attention to the pastor's many tasks. In his pastoral letters, the Apostle Paul offers plenty of guidance to those called to serve.
In his second letter to Timothy he instructs him to, "Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching." [2 Timothy 2:4]
And to Titus, he says, "Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured." [Titus 2:7-8a]
Other verses are highlighted in the service of ordination, specifically used when a pastor is charged with the following:
"Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians..." [Acts 20:28]
"Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not under compulsion but willingly, not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock." [1 Peter 5:2-3]
"Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." [1 Corinthians 4:1-2]
The Constitutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America enumerate a substantial set of responsibilities for a minister of word and sacrament (pastor); among them, to 1) preach the Word; 2) administer the sacraments; 3) conduct public worship; 4) provide pastoral care; 5) seek out and encourage qualified persons to prepare for the ministry of the Gospel; 6) impart knowledge of this church and its wider ministry through available channels of effective communication; 7) witness to the Kingdom of God in the community, in the nation, and abroad; and 8) speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God's love for the world.
That's quite a list when you think about it. But that's not all. A pastor with a regular congregational call is also expected to do the following: 1) offer instruction, confirm, marry, visit the sick and distressed, and bury the dead; 2) relate to all schools and organizations of the congregation; 3) install regularly elected members of the Congregation Council; 4) with the council, administer discipline; 5) endeavor to increase the support given by the congregation to the work of the churchwide organization and the synod; and 6) encourage adherence to covenantal relationships with this church as expressed in the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
But though these requirements and regulations describe what a pastor does, they fail to define who a pastor is, what is in the heart of a servant of Christ. In his book, The Living Reminder, Henri Nouwen uses three words to define a pastor: healer, sustainer, and guide.
Ministry is a vocation, a calling. The person who responds to that call does so because she or he feels compelled to speak on God's behalf.
We read in Paul's letter to the Romans; "And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'' [Romans 10:14-15]
As I said at the outset, if ever there was a time to thank your pastor, or to show her/him how much they are appreciated, this is the year.
And allow me, through the words written here, express how grateful I am for the rostered ministers of the Northeastern Ohio Synod and for their service in the name of Jesus. You are a blessing to the Church.
My electronic meeting schedule this week is as follows:
Monday: Staff Meeting
Ohio Faith Leaders Prayer Gathering
Authentic Diversity Advisory Team
Tuesday: Catholic Television Network of Youngstown - Videotape
Wednesday: Northeastern Ohio Synod Rostered Ministers Monthly
Thursday: Conference of Bishops weekly Check-In
Note that the Northeastern Ohio Synod Rostered Ministers Monthly Gathering will be this Wednesday, October 7, 2020, beginning at 10 a.m. Please email the synod office (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact your conference Dean for the link.
This issue marks four years since I began writing Monday Musings. I went back to the very first of these to see what I wrote and whether I'd been faithful to my intent. Here is the paragraph:
My plan is to make this what the title implies; random thoughts and contemplations on the week ahead, with an occasional look backward, but primarily focused forward. At times, the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday will inform my thoughts, but if the occasion warrants, it will be something other than those assigned texts.
I have appreciated the reassuring feedback I've received from many of you. It has motivated me to continue each week and hopefully, you have been blessed by the words written here.
Obviously, had things progressed normally, these Musings would have ended the last Monday in August. The additional month's run in September has enabled me to complete a full four years. My plan was to cease writing at the end of my term, so we have actually enjoyed a few bonus weeks.
I say all this to inform you that I will bring Musings to an end with the October 26 issue. This will allow me to concentrate on transitional matters and take some unused vacation time during my final month in office. I do not know how our Bishop-Elect plans to communicate with you, but I am sure there will be some sort of regular contact. But as for me, I will be signing off soon.
In the process of cleaning out my office, I recently took down a framed copy of Martin Luther's sacristy prayer. It was placed strategically on a wall which I would face when meeting with someone, to remind me that I am not alone in this ministry. I close today's reflection with that prayer:
Lord God, You have appointed me as a Bishop and Pastor in Your Church, but you see how unsuited I am to meet so great and difficult a task. If I had lacked Your help, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore, I call upon You: I wish to devote my mouth and my heart to you; I shall teach the people. I myself will learn and ponder diligently upon Your Word. Use me as Your instrument - but do not forsake me, for if ever I should be on my own, I would easily wreck it all. Amen
All three constitutions list these responsibilities. They can be found in Chapter 7.31.02 of the
CONSTITUTIONS, BYLAWS, AND CONTINUING RESOLUTIONS of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America®, Chapter S14.12 of the Constitution for Synods, and Chapter C9.03 of the Model Constitution for Congregations.