The Charge

Yesterday the York Association of the United Church of Christ held a Service of Installation to celebrate and support the new call to ministry shared by First Congregational Church of Kennebunkport and their new pastor Rev. Charlotte Bell. At a service of installation we pray together, we reflect on God’s word, we sing, and we make promises to be in mutual relationship with one another as we pursue and support the work God has called us all to share. Part of the service is “The Charge.” A Charge is issued to the Pastor…highlighting her responsibility to care for the people of the church, who are in her “charge.” A similar Charge is offered to the Congregation…imploring them to care for their Pastor to the best of their ability. It is in the mutual care of mutual relationships that we all find ourselves becoming the Church together.

I had no idea as I arrived at the service, but I was assigned with giving the Charge to the Congregation. I had no time to prepare…but I knew exactly what I needed to say. I have served in many professional ministry capacities in churches in Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine over the last 15 years. I had a wealth of knowledge and experiences from which to draw. I decided the most valuable thing I could give to that congregation was a quick glimpse inside the life of a Pastor. It’s a particular vocation…with a singularly difficult lifestyle. I know a lot of people with a lot of complicated and demanding jobs…they usually shake their head at me when I try to describe what Pastoring is like. “You win,” they’ll often say…though, I’m never really trying to compete with them…just trying to describe what it’s like to be me. Even when we gather as peers and colleagues, Pastors are constantly amazed by the sheer amount of bizarre quirks that are part of our normal lives.

So I chose to highlight some things about Pastors that lay folk may not be aware of…and then Charged them to care for their Pastor in the difficult work. As I spoke it, it immediately seemed important to me…and I wanted to share with our community what I shared with the community in Kennebunkport:

Some areas of a Pastor’s Life that many people may not think about:

The Job: Some calls to Pastoral Ministry are part time, some half time, others are full time. Regardless of how much time in the week a Pastor is paid for…there is no such thing as anything other than “Overtime Pastoring.” When Pastors have a congregation placed in our care, we think about the individuals and the whole community constantly. We may request days off or vacation time, we may require Sabbath days and Study weeks…but the people in our care never really leave our minds and our hearts. It’s part of the vocation, to reserve a space in our inner lives that is constantly ready to focus on the folks in our care. You need a Pastor who can take the time to preach a good word to you on Sunday morning…and who is able to be in your hospital room on Sunday night.

So I charged the Congregation with Compassion and Understanding. Understand that, despite how much or how little you may think your Pastor works each week, you are never far from their hearts and minds. Demonstrate Compassion toward those individuals who God calls to dedicate their lives to the needs of many others. Understand it’s a heavy toll we pay to do this work…and we pay it gladly.

Time: Pastoral Ministry is a lot of work…and the work is slow, consuming a lot of time each week, every day. For example, it is not uncommon for me to spend about 20 hours in any given week planning, organizing and writing a worship service, from bulletin to sermon. My best sermons (a.k.a. my SHORTEST sermons) are usually the result of 25 hours of work or more. Any Pastoral Visit requires at least an hour…and the visits that require more than just ordinary chit-chat can require preparation before and processing after. If I have three Pastoral Visits in a day, I have usually dedicated 6 hours plus travel time to the work. Committee meetings can occur (at least) once a week, and each one requires anywhere from 90 to 180 minutes of preparation and presence. This is just the most basic level of Pastoral services, but even the basic needs can take up 50 hours in an ordinary work week. All of this is to say that Pastoral Ministry requires semi-constant, research, prayer, preparation of many kinds. A lot of the work that Pastors need to do is, by necessity, private and unseen and takes an immense amount of emotional, psychological and physical energy. Most of the work we do will only ever be witnessed by ourselves and God.

So i charged the Congregation with Patience and Trust. Trust that your Pastor is hard at work on important things that require their time and attention…regardless of whether or not you can see the work for yourself. And exhibit Patience as much as possible. Even if there is something urgent and pressing that you need your Pastor to respond to…you need to know that we are coming your way as quickly as we can.

Energy: Speaking of energy and speed…in any given church there is only 1 (maybe 2) Pastor(s). So the ratio of Pastors to Congregants is always something like 1: 50, or 1: 150, or 1: 240. There will always be more of you than there are Pastors to go around. When a church calls a Pastor, they are signing up to share a common resource. And all human beings are limited in their ability to resource others. If you can imagine several people at a time knocking on your door, calling your phone, sending you emails, and pinging you on social media, at all times of the day and night…then you can begin to imagine how stretched thin a particular Pastor may feel. For this reason, it is essential that the Pastor establish healthy boundaries that empower them to care for themselves so that they can properly care for others.

So I charged the Congregation with Respect and Grace. Respect the boundaries that your Pastor establishes, so they have the freedom to care for you in your hour of need. Try, as often as possible, to reflect God’s forgiving grace back to these people who have the audacity to try the impossible…to serve dozens (or hundreds) of people with only 24 hours in a day.

As I drove back to our “little church on the corner” I was reminded how blessed we are as a community. We are an energetic and expanding community of several hundred people, blessed with not just a Pastor, but a roster of passionate and concerned staff: a Music Director, a Church Coordinator, a Director of Youth and Family Ministry and a Sexton. All of us find great joy in our work…and all of us struggle to figure out how to best serve the many people in our care, accomplish the many tasks before us, with limited time and resources.

So I extend the charge I gave to the church in Kennebunkport to our own community in Kittery Point:

Let us remember to care for one another as we engage together the work to which God has called us. Let us all practice Compassion and Understanding, Patience and Trust, Respect and Grace. The better we become at caring for one another…the better we become at caring for God’s world in need of the gifts we enjoy together every day.

It is an honor and a privilege to serve alongside all of you in this place.

Brian Gruhn