Art of Transitional Ministry: Shining Eyes and the Business of Church

Princeton FallI’m vacationing in New Jersey.

It’s a continuing education program in the ol’ stomping grounds of Princeton called “The Art of Transitional Ministry,” which is a lovely and fancy way of talking about interim ministry (in layman terms: the time between when a church has had a pastor leave and they need to seek a new pastor). And it might be odd to say that it is vacation but something about being able to brush my teeth and take a long shower in the mornings feels like paradise.

We started out with Benjamin Zander’s “The Art of Possibility” and it feels like possibility and Rule #6 is haunting me. And, it was seeing him talk about shining eyes that struck me again. The video we watched was older and longer, and it included one story from his book that I loved being able to see in the flesh and blood. It was the story of his work with the opera singer, and the change that happened not only in his voice but in his whole being, in particular, his eyes. And to see his eyes shining as he connected with his singing, and then the eyes of those listening and watching this process unfold before them…it was beautifully tangible.

Shining eyes. Would that the way we experience God show in our eyes in the same way. On Sunday mornings. In choir practices. Even in committee meetings, task force meetings, even Session meetings.

*snort*

I can’t help but be cynical. But it seems necessary if we are talking about creating a vibrant church community, the leadership, not only the pastors and staff, they need to be the ones on fire.

The culture around the Session, and/or becoming an Elder for the first time is always full of little tongue-in-cheek jokes about the work and business, and the long 3 years of commitment, and the talks about budgets, staff, etc. In general, there’s a sense of reluctance around serving on this leadership board. Granted, I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but I felt like meetings were pretty taxing. Trying to do something creative or to incorporate Bible study or a meal often felt like too much. I remember hearing one Elder say he preferred that Session meetings be business. “Let’s do our business and get out of here.”

So, when and how do we change this attitude? To create a space for stoking the kindling – I know we can’t expect bonfires nonstop – that’s for God and the burning bush – but, how to spark and carry that light seems a pressing question.

Later I read the daily Henri Nouwen meditation:

The Pillars of the Church

The two main sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist, are the spiritual pillars of the Church.  They are not simply instruments by which the Church exercises its ministry.  They are not just means by which we become and remain members of the Church but belong to the essence of the Church.  Without these sacraments there is no Church.  The Church is the body of Christ fashioned by baptism and the Eucharist.  When people are baptised in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and when they gather around the table of Christ and receive his Body and Blood, they become the people of God, called the Church.

I’m remembering a seminary class with Sally Brown who inspired this sense of baptism being foundation to our identities, and not simply a one-time ritual. Nouwen’s pillars echo this importance, and I wonder if there is something here if we are deliberate about making space to pay attention to how they shape our particular identity. Who we are and what we do…Both baptism and the eucharist are powerful and unique symbols, and sacred moments that are meant to be re-lived over and over. Whenever I’ve engaged these sacraments I feel like I get a good dose of yummy God, and renewed somehow…

I’m musing about this whole transitional process…and trying to find a couple of hooks to hang my hats so will be blogging about this program for the next few days this week.

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