For many of us, it is a year filled with challenges, hopes, and maybe even a few fears. For one, we are getting older. With each year that passes past age 50, our bodies change, parts begin to show wear, and it seems like more sleep is needed just to keep up.
For us in the church, it is a year filled with concern, with hope for the future, hope for the economy, and a desire to put the past behind us. Pastors who have trained to be full-time ministers are having to figure out how to deal with part-time employment, multiple jobs and/or churches, and congregations who are just as weary and unsure as we are. If your congregation left the ELCA, you might be feeling pretty good right now, but there are many in your congregation who are wondering if they did the right thing. If you congregation voted but did not leave, you are most likely dealing with a major split that will take years to heal. Even if your congregation did not vote and did not plan to leave, you have plenty of people who have friends and family who are suffering from a congregation that did split. The pain and fear are there, even if they did not experience it directly.
Meanwhile, people, including pastors, are looking for employment. Many are working, but not at the jobs which they are trained for, or are working at jobs for which they have no passion just so they can pay the bills. For pastors, many are filling in as interim's, or as part-time pastors while they look for a call to full time ministry. Many of them have left congregations that they loved, but could not stay with because the were not willing to change church bodies. Some were forced out, some were moved out gently, some resigned when it became apparent that their staying would only prolong the suffering.
This perfect storm of economy, politics, and church strife have turned the world upside down for many of us in the ministry. Some have been able to move to other areas of the country and be called to loving, healthy churches. A few have been able to retire or settle into interim positions which will lead them to retirement. Others are hanging on by doing whatever has to be done.
For me, I am into my second year as a part-time interim while trying to make a home-based business fill the income gap. After a full year of this, I can say that it has helped, but it has not been enough. Trying to be a part-time pastor to a congregation that expects more that part-time availability is tough. Trying to pay the bills on a part-time pastor's salary is even tougher. Then, there is that economy issue - can't sell the house that we used to live in, the car needs work because of the extra miles I have to drive each week, gas prices are up, food prices are up, electric rates are going up, and making a dollar stretch gets hard and harder.
As I look forward to 2012, I see that changes will have to be made. Do I go back to cooking? Can I find part-time work in computers? Can I somehow find another small congregation that is willing to join us in sharing a pastor's salary? Or is this the year that things settle down and the call process goes back to normal and maybe something new comes along?
I don't know any of the answers; I am not sure I even know all of the questions, but I do know that 2012 will be an interesting year - because something has to change. I pray that as you begin 2012, you see the light that is Christ leading you through the dark times, and that as you move through the new year, you will shine your light for others as well. I hope that I can continue to shine my light for you as well.