Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coming and Going

As I have enjoyed the past few days (snow days) of being able to work from home and not have to drive anywhere, I have given some thought to the questions I have been asked lately about my schedule. As you may or may not know, I am currently doing ministry in three places, plus a couple of other things since full time calls in this area are scarce.

I am serving as the long-term interim pastor at Mt. Gilead Lutheran Church in Mt. Pleasant NC, the long-term interim pastor at St. Martin Lutheran Church in Concord NC, and the part-time chaplain at Trinity Place Lutheran Home in Albemarle. This means that on Sunday, I have a 9:30 a.m. service, an 11:00 a.m. service, and a 4:00 p.m. service. It also means that on Sunday I drive about 65 miles.

On top of those three positions, I also drive a school bus some mornings, and still work on computers and websites. All in all, still not quite full time pay and no benefits. As a  colleague said to me the other night, this is the new church, and we cobble things together as best we can (he also drove buses for awhile -delivering new ones).

As I said, I have spent some time contemplating this situation and have wondered a couple of things. How much longer can I manage this kind of schedule without meeting myself coming and going? So far, I manage to not miss many things (thanks to really good calendar apps) and I still do manage to get some time at home. The other question is how long can the church survive when this is what leaders are forced to do?

I have heard and read many stories of leaders (mostly young with families who have no other skill sets) who have ended up on food stamps and lost their homes because they were either at a church where they could not provide a full salary or they were without a call and could not find one. Long gone are the days when a candidate is trained for the church without cost (most of us carry a lot of student loan debt), and most of us need a decent salary to survive. Even with a call that includes a parsonage, cost of living has increased much faster than many salaries, and most churches are looking at ways of reducing cost - including the pastor's salary, so what are we to do?

One of my hopes was that by taking on the interim position in two congregations, someday we might be able to talk about a two-point parish with a call. That may still happen, but some days seems like a long-way off. Other days it seems like it could happen soon, but the reality is that not many congregation are willing to consider this option. For most, their independence is an issue they do not want to mess with. It is not that they don't like the other church, or that they don't want the pastor to have the income they cannot provide, but the change itself, and not being able to set your own schedule can be an issue. This point came home to me over the last couple of weeks as we discussed the schedule for Lent. One congregation was adamant about doing a soup supper in their own fellowship hall every Wednesday in Lent and not alternating as we have done for Bible Study. It just means that I give up two evenings every week in Lent instead of one. But these are the issues we face as we try to set up new models of ministry.

Most days, I love what I do - even the days that begin at 5:30 a.m. to drive a school bus and don't end until about 9:00 p.m. when I get home from Bible Study. I love the people and I love serving God. However, when I find myself falling asleep while visiting someone, or nodding off at a stoplight, then I wonder again how long this can go on.

Peace be with you all, and pray for all those who work multiple jobs that they might find time to rest occasionally.