Today, June 10, I preached at Big Timber UCC. The sermon is the Mark 3 sermon in the pages listing on this blog. But I thought I would adapt the first part of the sermon for this blog here, because so many people found it helpful to their understanding of what I do:
I would like to tell you a bit about my week, if I may. You might think of it as a bit of a “report in” from one of your ministers. After all, you are part of a wider church that does ministry throughout Montana and Northern Wyoming. I’m one of those ministers, along with Ruth Fletcher, whose ministry is on behalf of many churches throughout this part of the country. So here is a week in the life of a conference minister:
Last Sunday, First United Church of Billings celebrated the beginning of a new ministry. It was the first Sunday for their Interim minister, Tom Hall. They had been getting by with guest preachers most of time since their pastor left in February. First UCC Billings wanted to celebrate this new beginning of church life by recognizing that God had a plan for this church. It was important to them that someone beyond their congregation acknowledge and witness God’s love for them, so I joined them in welcoming Tom Hall.
Maybe it is like when a couple come to get married in a church, like here, or
when a family comes before you with a child to be baptized, or
when the community gathers to remember the life of a dearly departed loved one:
there are times when it does our souls well to acknowledge before others that “God is good” and that in God, “everything is going to work out.” Sometimes, churches need to know this, and a significant part of my ministry is representing to others, in their time of need, the God who keeps good faith.
On Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday I was in our United Church of Christ Billings office on Alderson Avenue. It seems all too much time in the office, but that is what it takes to run church life.
So on Monday I looked at the scripture for today’s sermon and communicated with Karen about the worship bulletin. Three more churches called to ask if I could come a preach sometime this summer or fall, so I put Mayflower UCC in Billings, Columbus UCC, and Glendive UCC on my calendar. Also Worden UCC called to invite me to their 100th anniversary celebration worship happening in September, and Amber Dixson, the new pastor in Miles City called to invited me to participate in her installation in August. Worship is the bread and butter of church work, or more appropriately, what we might call the bread and chalice of church worship.
There is also the nuts and bolts of church work that happens out of our office. So, I spent half a day reviewing our financial statements with our bookkeeper to account for the dollars that pass through or get expended by our ministry. Tracking our financials is a humbling experience on two counts: first it is an awesome responsibility to oversee the stewardship the faithful and devoted giving of those who entrust their gifts to ministry, and second is humbling to exist so close to the edge and somewhat unsure how to sustain this ministry.
So, the ministry continues in large part by prayer and inspiration. On Tuesday, I wrote two proposals for our upcoming Board of Directors meeting next weekend: What if we could connect with each other, in our wider church ministry, not primarily through the Billings or Great Falls offices, but more directly according to what moves and inspires us in relationship to each other.
For example, like what Big Timber UCC has done in restoring the Big Timber cabin at Camp Mimanagish. Do you know, this weekend, that Rev. John Sellers from Columbus UCC was at the cabin with his confirmation class? Your church gift of restored retreat space matched a church’s need to get away, and the connection was made between these two churches. The conference office and Camp support these connections through scheduling and maintenance, and that is what I propose we do more of as a conference. What if we had an internet communications system that provided each church a way to communicate together through WEB and Calendar, video conferencing and file sharing?
What if we had as a conference and partnership, just like local churches do, deacons or elders, who come to know the local churches and can be there to assist in times of special need or show where connections can be made that you might be looking?
By Wednesday afternoon it was time to get out of the office, so I headed over to Butte. A deeply respected church leader in Butte UCC, Jim Johnson, died last week. Jim and his wife, Diane Kimball, have provided plenty of leadership to the conference over the years, so I went to Jim’s funeral to offer words of condolence. It was one of those standing room only funerals that was truly filled with thanksgiving and appreciation for life.
There was more church business that day in Butte. Earlier in the week, our Great Falls partnership office received an email from the pastor of Butte Disciples of Christ, our other partnership church in Butte, announcing his retirement. So while I was in Butte, I met with 6 members of their congregation, which represented 1/3 of their total church, to talk about their options for ministry. I was able to give them three names of pastors who expressed interest in ministering with them.
By Thursday evening I was on the road heading back this way, in order to spend a few days at Camp Mimanagish. I figured, why go all the way back to Billings since I am preaching here on Sunday in Big Timber? Being at Camp Mimanagish would give a chance to check in with staff, meet Young Adult campers, assess damage from last week’s windstorm that took down about 200 trees in the lower camp, and do some personal retreat time (including writing a sermon). Seven miles in on the gravel road, my VW Jetta car hit the first rock jutting out in the middle of the road, and the oil pan cracked open. The rest of the evening was spent hitching a ride to camp, getting the camp truck and towing the car in. On Friday I did some of what I planned to do while at Camp Mimanagish, except that instead of taking time for retreat, I arranged to get my Jetta hauled into Big Timber, and found rides back to the Billings office so to pick up and use the conference’s Buick LaSabre. Everything, worked out for good, at least I trust so. It may be another month before I get back to pick up my car from Mr. Rob. Ah, a week in the life of a conference minister. (Oh, and the Camp Mimanagish staff wanted me to remember to say that this Sunday morning, I also helped prepare for camp breakfast by cutting up fruit…unfortunately I had to leave for Big Timber before the eating part of breakfast started.)