(CT) Susan Pfeil–Laying My Church to Rest

A year after my brother’s death, I returned as a guest to our family home. I stayed in my childhood bedroom, but my relationship to this room and my old house had begun to change. From the bedroom window, I looked out over the front fields and gardens and realized that it was just a matter of time before the maintenance of this house and grounds would require too much expense and sheer physical labor for my sister-in-law to manage. Eventually she would be forced to sell it, probably to developers. We dreaded the idea that they would probably tear it down, divide up the land, and build houses one after another on this special spot. Now memories of growing up in this home feel more precious than ever, as I am conscious of how my separation from this family home has begun.

I also returned as a guest to another building: the church sanctuary in which I once served. Returning after eight months, I was still in a fallow time, waiting for a new season in which to balance my vocational gifts. Faith leaders from the past 15 years were invited to join together for community worship and thanksgiving. Their new pastor graciously invited me to speak at the service.

This was the first time I had returned to the pulpit since Christmas Day 2016. I felt close to tears as I looked out over a large gathering. As I spoke, I sensed that I was beginning to let go of a deep sense of loss of my role in this church. While my role had changed, my pastoral identity was still alive and strong. I remembered in those moments that pastoral identity was not limited to a role or roles in a church, but rather, it is a way of life, a way of thinking about life.

I felt as if I were standing with Moses before a burning bush, with my shoes off, when Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). God replied, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on the mountain” (v. 12). Moses was promised God’s presence through whatever trials he might encounter, but he was not exempt from the changes and separations that he would have to endure. Could I ask for more than Moses? After eight long months, it was time to put on my shoes again.

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Posted in Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology

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