A Partially Unwrapped Gift

I don’t remember who suggested it first. It was at a church budget meeting, a few years ago, and we were analyzing the church budget, trying to figure out what we could cut or trim at a time when it felt like we had already cut and trimmed everything to bare bones status. At some point, a suggestion was offered: to eliminate the “supply” line, the line that funded payment to other ministers who filled in for me on my vacation Sundays.

What did the suggestion mean? No more vacation for me? No. The suggestion continued: could we rely on church volunteers to lead worship for those Sundays when the minister is away?

We tried it and cut that line on the budget. Saving money turned out to be just the beginning of this great idea.

Since we cut the funding for supply pastors, I’ve had almost no trouble at all filling my vacation Sundays. This year has been especially impressive. I not only have my four regular vacation Sundays, plus two additional (to help balance my three-quarter time schedule), but there have been another four Sundays of sabbatical time. So far, all of my “away” Sundays have been filled by Old South people (with only two more Sundays to go—one in September and another in November).

This is a remarkable testament to the life of Old South. Not only do we have a variety of people—amid a small congregation— willing to lead worship, but we also have a few parishioners who come specifically on those Sundays when a layperson is leading—to support them, to encourage them, and to satisfy a curiosity of what new insights might be offered and gained. Thankfully, we also have a retired American Baptist pastor in the congregation who eagerly covers a Sunday or two.

The stories that the worship leaders share with me—as well as those in the congregation—reflect a sense of new connection and insight, a heightened awareness of faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit. It’s all good, and interesting.

I can’t help it, though. I want more.

It’s wonderful, and humbling, to have people who are willing to lead worship. It is something to behold in wonder, appreciation and awe.

But, it feels like a gift only partially unwrapped, partially given.

I’d like to see a greater willingness and ease in sharing faith and connection to church outside of church, outside of worship. Then, the gift might be more fully realized and offered.

It is truly wonderful to have people who are willing to wrestle with a Bible passage, and to consider their own theological journey. And, then to get in front of a group of people, use a microphone and speak. It’s something that I certainly don’t want to take for granted.

But, the sharing of faith, of connection to God, of love of church, cannot simply remain contained in that worship space, shared only in that familiar, comfortable setting. Now that we know that there’s a willingness to lead worship—by at least a few—I hope that we can find a way to move our courageous spirit outside the doors of our beautiful church.

And, to share—out there. In the community. In our families. You know, like those early followers did. Let’s unwrap the gift in all of its wonder and glory.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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