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Yesterday at 2:00 PM it hit me that I am no longer on vacation; I wanted my afternoon nap.
It was my first day back in my office since the beginning of August. I felt like one of the school kids whose pictures I saw on my Facebook timeline holding a poster: “Madeline 2nd grade”, “Jack’s first day of school”, and “Reverend Jes, year 3 pastor.”
The first day back after a lengthy holiday is wrought with joy and anxiety. My first day back to school in sixth grade was terrifying. What was middle school? Why did I have to be a foot taller than everyone else? Why is everyone so mean? My first day back to high school my junior year, however, was amazing. My campaign for class president (with the slogan “Cast your vote for Kast”) had worked at the end of the previous year, setting this junior year up with a different set of questions. What legacy will I leave as I lead my junior class? We have to have the best homecoming float this year so what will I encourage us to make? How much will I be able to improve the food served in the cafeteria? First days (school, job, volunteering, etc…) are anchored by questions and goals.
Like many of you, books were a big part of my vacation this year. My book list included young adult fiction, novels, biographies and the feminist existential theorist Simone de Beauvoir. I hang out in existential thought often. “What does this even matter?” is a question I find myself asking consistently, particuarlly at the beginning of new years. What value does this bring to me and the world around? How is value measured? What makes this meangingful?
I think, if pastors are honest, we also ask these questions. “Does my ministry matter?” “Does this church matter to this neighborhood/city?” “Does my faith matter to the world?” These are faithful questions that allow us to reflect with God. I consider these questions to be prayers. I think John Calvin would agree. In the Institutes he wrote, “All the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and our ourselves. (1.1.1)”
By the time I got home from work yesterday I was sleepy. I didn’t get my afternoon vacation nap (though I did 20 jumping jacks in heels to wake me up), but it was more than the nap. I came home knowing that the congregation I serve, my ministry, and the year ahead of me mattered. So I exerted heart and thought because I believe God has called me to this. I’ve heard the statistic that half of all ministers starting out will leave the ministry in five years. Half! Whoa! I’m curious about that number. I’m so competitive I almost take it as a challenge, but honestly, I also genuinely believe that ministry matters. I do not believe the church is dying and I get so annoyed when I hear people say that. Church is changing, of course! More people are doing church so much differently than just a pew on Sunday morning. I have friends who have planted dinner churches, pub churches, garden churches, and other unique ways of gathering around Word and Sacrament. The people of God will always continue to meet, we just aren’t going to keep meeting in the same way. Ministry matters!
Maybe you are in need of some encouragement this year and are also wondering “Does my ministry really matter?” Maybe you are a deacon and wondering “Does this even matter?” Maybe you are a lay person who serves your church and city who is wondering “Does my service even make a difference?” Maybe you are a seminarian who is starting a new school year and are asking yourself “Is this really what I need to be doing with my life?” Or maybe you are a pastor and you, too, are beginning this year wondering “Does my ministry matter?” Most of us ask this question, it’s so very human.
I came across this video recently on the SALT Project website and offer it to each of us, espeically my ministerial colleagues, as a response to our question “Does this even matter?” Rev. Julian DeShazier has an inspiring Word of hope for us all.
God’s blessings to each of us as we travel back from our holidays and begin, again.