Saturday, June 20, 2009

endings and beginnings

I remember that Seneca said something to the effect that "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." I am not waxing philosophical, exactly, but here on the Saturday evening before my last preaching Sunday at FUMC, I am experiencing a deep place, a tranquil and at the same time restless moment.

I wonder what it is about me that I make such a "difference," and by that I mean that people to whom I minister for the most part either love me or hate me, or if not love then really, really appreciate and if not hate, then really, really resent. I would like, vaingloriously, to imagine that in the latter case it is because my teaching and preaching unearth the unclean spirits resting comfortably in a place (ala Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum), but I am not at all sure that is true. Maybe a little, or some.

I would take some comfort in that "if they have hated me they will hate you" text, if I had any sense at all that it is on account of the gospel that I experience people's irritation and dismission (if not outright animosity). The word of God may indeed be a two-edged sword, but who's to say, finally, that I am not grinding my own axe and that the gospel is ill-served by my little attempts at prophetic critique.

At the same time, people who don't know me up close find me entirely forgetable... my name being difficult and my face being average, and my charisma being set to low. My cynicism, too, plays a part in all of that.

I am 54. I am moving again. Yes, I have had some notable successes,even here, but there is a good chance the Family Life Center will be mostly empty tomorrow. This last week the UMW did not invite me to their annual picnic, when it would have been a natural time to say farewell. The minutes of the last Church Council meeting did not, except in my own report, say ANYTHING about my leaving, or the church's thanks, or anyone's sadness at my departing. I have gotten all of TWO cards from folk. It is a really strange feeling. I really do think the most of the people here have appreciated, as much as they have experienced, my work. But the only real "vibe" I am getting is negative. So, so strange.

And yes, this is a perfectly dysfunctional congregation.

Still, it is odd... I wonder how Jesus views my ministry. Maybe I do not have enough joy; that is, the news is good, but not good enough in my mind to make me cheerful. That melancholy and dysthemia comes across as condescension and anger... people feel I am never satisfied with them. And perhaps that is true.

In any case, I am on my way to dinner. My sermon, such as it is, is finished. One to go.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry this last beginning is so difficult. How fortunate for me that I will not lose the continued chance to grow with you.

I am struggling at my own church. In the last year both our minister and associate minister were changed and both have such very different personalities, styles, and message from those before. I cannot seem to warm to either of them. I am concentrating on trying find what it is that I am to learn from them. But I so lost. I do not feel that I could to go to either of them in a time of crisis.

There are surely those in your congregation who will miss you more than you will ever know. Those reserved members who are uncomfortable stating that but who will think of you, remember your lessons, and perhaps follow you on this blog.

Tom Steagald said...

thank you for your kind words. And I do so admire your willingness to ask yourself what you are supposed to learn from ministers who are not an automatic blessing to you. That demonstrates a very deep spiritual wisdom.

Thank you for following me on the blog.

Amy said...

well, I've passed the holidays and holy days onto friends. It is in part why I said nothing about Father's Day yesterday in worship. Good for me to ponder. So, thanks. Gosh, It's their loss; it is their loss. I hope you consider this blogging part of your ministry. blessings on the next chapter...

Tom Steagald said...

I do consider this blog a part of my minstry, and thank you for reading it with care.

Anita said...

I have many of the same feelings my friend. I have come to believe that I prefer people to either love me or hate me, but do NOT be complacent - then I have failed to make an impression. We both work in professions where it is often difficult to see the growth/gains/rewards for our efforts and it can often drag us down. All I can say is I love my job and pour my heart in to it every day as if it is God himself I am serving and to hell with what everyone else thinks. In your case it IS God your serving and He is using you as a tool to reach people He's having difficulty with. Geese Tom, Jesus had trouble too! None of the Apostles had an easy road either. Make people either LOVE you or HATE you - the important thing is to make them FEEL - that's what they are afraid of. This new church has no idea what their in for - I wish I was one of you parishioners! No matter how you feel throughout this transition, remember I love you as does the entire Emmaus community in which you serve. God picked YOU for a reason :D

Anonymous said...

I resonated so deeply with this blog. I also left a church in a very similar way in the late 1990's. They had called me to help them with a capital stewardship campaign to deal with a huge mortgage which sucked the life out of every other program in the congregation. I was there for 3 1/2 years, and helped them reduce their mortgage from $750,000 to $400,000. When I left, 1 person said thank you and goodbye.

It was a difficult thing for me to deal with, lots of pain and some bitterness. I even considered leaving ministry altogether.

Thankfully I did not. I ended up in a place (two congregations later, and a denominational change) where not only justice and peace kiss, but where community has become more than an ideal for me. I have been here for 5 years now, and parts of my life has been healed in deep and profound ways by the love I've experienced here.

Your blog touched some deep places in me. Thank you for this valuable and important ministry