Sunday, August 21, 2016

à tout à l'heure

In four days we will return to the Eastern Townships of Canada - and
then Montréal - places I cherish. Not only will they be filled with wandering slowly through new streets and into unknown cafes and brasseries, but we'll have a chance to meet people on their terms. 

This summer I have tried to do some of this while at work, building gaps into my calendar for unfocused wandering downtown or even celebrating being interrupted by unexpected guests. To make this real, I have consciously practiced abandoning most of my former administrative work. Truth be told, letting it go is the only way I can stay. I have neither the stomach nor heart for church administration in this current incarnation of ministry. Not that I am well-practiced forsaking it yet. I still sometimes wake-up in the early morning hours feeling anxious. Unhinged and irresponsible, too.  But, gradually, as I practice fasting from fretting, I am becoming more at home in my own skin. I rather enjoy living as the congregation's spiritual friend. Not their pastor, ok? Just Frère Jacques, Friar James, who doesn't have to solve any personnel problems. I am even starting to refuse to resolve calendar conflicts and ignore the budget deficits, as well. 

I suspect this is the only way a 21st century flâneur can survive in ministry. My goal, you see, involves quietly and humbly serving this small community as one who loves them: not a chaplain for the privileged nor a rent-a-minister for the elite; certainly not a pauper's cheap excuse for a therapist nor an administrative answer man either. I've been there and done all that an more - and it sucks the soul out of a tender heart. No, for as long as I continue working in this parish, my focus is to be fully present to real people every day, vigorously bringing beauty, insight and awe to worship, holding them all in prayer, and then trusting God to be God. Everything else - programming, stewardship, staffing and administration - is off my plate - and that's as it should be.

I read earlier today that the reason so many pastors are burned-out is because their congregations expect to be entertained during worship. That is probably true in our shallow and confused culture. But my hunch is that burn-out comes to pastors of small churches when our love for God and God's people gets squeezed out of existence through the endless demands of useless administrative tasks and the presence of cruel but petty tyrants in the church. This denigrates the call of the Spirit to our hearts and reduces most of us to mildly effective bean-counters with no connection to our love of Jesus whatsoever. The late Henri Nouwen once summarized our calling like this:

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone's face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

When I wander Montréal with Dianne I remember who I really am in God's eyes. When I sleep and share love, when I feast with strangers and laugh or weep over the ups and downs of each day, I become alive in the beautiful simplicity of creation.  Over the next three days I have made certain that each is filled with open space for whomever I might need to see. And then: au revoir mes amis - à tout à l'heure!

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