Mission and rest

This Sunday after worship, Jana and I start a three-and-a-half month time of rest called a sabbatical. We have been blessed to help lead a church which allowed us this time of rest. The church is blessed with a wonderful associate pastor, staff, and lay leaders, and so we know things are in good hands while we’re away. We have also been blessed with a significant grant from the Lilly Endowment National Clergy Renewal Program, which will allow us to travel with our family. The Lilly folks believe that pastoral rest and renewal is so important that they have made over $6 million in grants to churches and pastors since the year 2000. Many of the church’s costs associated with our being away are also covered by the grant.

The grant application asks pastors, “What makes your heart sing?” It actually took months of reflection for me to answer that. If I had to answer, I would have said, “The mission.” I realized I’ve always been wired for “mission.” Whatever I set out to do became my mission. There’s always been something in my head screaming: “Never forget, the mission comes first!” And what could be more important than being on a mission for God? There are people all around who are hungry, a downtown growing with people who don’t know Jesus, members who need pastoral care, calls to make, emails to answer.

But when you turn a job into your “mission” it can be exhausting, for you and those around you.

What kind of mission are you on?

Are you wearing out yourself and those around you?

Let’s take a break.

For the next few months, my “mission” is to learn to rest. To remind myself that Jesus doesn’t actually need me for anything. To let Jesus teach my heart to sing: “I’m all you need.”

Pastors and Supreme Court Justices

Churches are often very conservative institutions. Churches don’t change easily or quickly. For the most part, this is a good thing. Churches handle the Word of God, which doesn’t change, so it’s entirely possible that churches will sometimes appear out of step with the world. So when something big changes in a local church, it’s important to take notice and celebrate.

This Sunday our church installs Dan Turis as associate pastor. Dan will become the first installed associate pastor here in nearly ten years. During that time, the church was served by an excellent interim associate pastor, but not an installed one.

In our tradition, it usually it takes a church a few years to decide what it needs in terms of pastoral leadership. A committee is then formed to work out the details and interview candidates. The congregation votes. Then the presbytery votes. It all takes about two years. The process of hiring a new head football coach or a Supreme Court justice is trivial by comparison.

Installation of a new pastor takes place during a service of worship. And it’s not the leaders of the church who preside, but a special commission of the presbytery. The music and words are different from Sunday worship.

I hope folks will come this Sunday at 2:00 to celebrate Dan’s installation.

Something bigger than any of us is taking place. This is God’s doing.


Caffeine and the Spirit

One morning this week, Pastor Dan and I had just left the meeting of the Clean and Safe Committee. It’s the working group of civic leaders, business owners, police, and civil servants who try to keep downtown “clean and safe.” Dan and I were pleased that our Tuesday night meals for the homeless, with our friends at Outreached Arms, were part of the discussion. This ministry lifts people up while helping address needs for health and safety.

I started to head straight back to the church, but Dan turned right, wanting to get coffee first. Standing next to the coffee shop, waiting for a bus, was a lady who yelled when she saw me: “It’s the pastor of First Presbyterian Church!”

Carla was beaming. She reminded me that my wife and I had helped her one Sunday after church to connect her with the services she needed. Now she was working, had her own place, and was enrolled in school. She said we had helped her when she was new in town and didn’t know where to turn.

Dan prayed, we all hugged, and we went on our way after telling Carla that her joy had made our day.

Dan drinks a lot of coffee, so you could say it was his need for caffeine that caused us to take the longer route back to the church. But I doubt it. It was the Spirit. It was the Spirit who allowed Jana and me to help Carla months before. It was the Spirit who filled her with joy. It was the Spirit who brought the tears that morning on the sidewalk.

Loose in the world

There’s a framed sheepskin deed, dated 1787, hanging in our church office, signed by the heirs of William Penn. The deed grants land to the “Presbyterian Congregation of Pittsburg.” The land included an ancient Indian burying ground and a Revolutionary War Cemetery, where the founders of the church (who later founded the city) were buried. As new church buildings were constructed (four have stood here), graves had to be exhumed and the heroes buried elsewhere. Seventy sets of remains are buried in the crypt in the church basement.

The current building was finished in 1905, and people from around the world still marvel at its unique combination of stone, wood, and stained glass. But two unique features often go unnoticed. Facing the street are stone plaques with the worship times. Yes, there really are things here that are carved in stone. Maybe when they built the place 112 years ago, they couldn’t imagine worshipping at another time. Or perhaps they couldn’t imagine a time when church would no longer be a focus of the culture.

The second feature is the outdoor pulpit, facing out onto Sixth Avenue. People walk by all day long, mostly without looking up. If someone did bother to look, they might not recognize that they were looking at a pulpit at all. But then they would also miss the meaning of the pulpit—God’s Word loose in the world.

This Sunday we’re going to use that pulpit for worship outside. At 6:00 AM thousands of runners will be gathering for the Pittsburgh Marathon, and we’ll be there to bless them. And at 10:45 AM, we’ll gather on Sixth Avenue for outdoor worship, and the Word will, literally, be loose in the world from here again.