My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Some thoughts at the beginning of Year 22

CFGT sanctuary circa Oct '91
 This past Monday, October 1, our 21st year anniversary of living and serving in Chetek came and went with little fanfare. I got up early, as is my habit, and went for a 10-mile run (which is not necessarily my habit). With Christine at work, Ed away at school and Charlie not of a mind to join us, it was only Linda, Emma and I who sat down for our daily reading time together. These days we are reading Kisses from Katie, the autobiographical account of Katie Davis the young woman from Nashville who moved to Uganda following her graduation from high school in 2007 and is still there. After praying together, our day began in earnest – Emma off to school and myself off to Refuge. At this time of year, much of my working day actually concerns the 20 individuals that I serve as Cross Country coach either preparing for the next practice or tabulating the results of our most recent race. It takes more time than I care to count but I love to do it and therefore I think the Lord is in it.

I did take time, however, to journal that day and here is my entry for Monday, October 1.

Our installation photo - Oct 27, 1991
 21 years ago today we rolled into town & by God’s grace 21 years later we are still here. Ministry sure looks different than it did then but that’s not to say I’m jaded or now have a soured look on ministry. Just the opposite. I love what I do and am grateful that I have a place “to work out my salvation w/fear and trembling.”

It’s not a part-time job. In fact, it’s not a job – it’s a calling. It’s not particularly hard work but it is the stress of dealing w/people through their highs & lows, ups & downs, their ebb & flow. If God permits it, I will be here for some time to come. But it is not “my” church. It is His & I serve at his pleasure until he removes the calling from me.

However long I am here I want to finish well. Whether that means w/a flourish & a grand send-off or rolling out of town in a U-Haul once again I pray for my part to continue to do good work here & continue to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done in this city as it is in heaven.”

When CFGT (now Refuge) celebrated our 40th Anniversary as a fellowship, I invited all the former pastors who were still alive to come and share on different Sundays to share of their time here. It was sorta like Homecoming Week spread over a month or so. I have never forgot what John Tuttle, my immediate predecessor, said tongue in cheek: “I’ll let the archeologists decide what my impact was during my time here.” John, who is never one to blow his own horn, did good work here. When he and Char arrived in Chetek in 1981, they inherited a congregation that had just come back together from a split through the efforts of his predecessors, Reverends Chester Lodgelin and David Bakken. Mrs. Mattson, the founding pastor’s wife, was still a force to be reckoned with. After her husband died suddenly of a stroke in 1974, she was never really the same and keeping her husband’s legacy alive – and her place in the fellowship they had labored so long to give birth to – became her mission. By the time the Tuttles arrived, it was mostly a small, aging congregation with enough eccentric individuals to keep things always interesting. Essentially, John and Char were the young people and John set a course of bringing their small fellowship out of the time-loop they seemed to be stuck in. As different members shared with me, it was a difficult transition but by the time John left in the spring of 1991 Mrs. Mattson always referred to him as “Pastor.”

Christmas 1991
 CFGT/Refuge is now in its 57th year and now I’m the guy who’s been here the longest. To use church growth guru guy, Lyle Schaller’s term, if Rev. Mattson is the “founding pastor”, I am the “forever pastor.” According to Schaller, they are two of the three hardest guys to follow (the third being the “fallen pastor” who I pray never to be.) When my time is finally done, I don’t know what “the archeologists” will say my legacy is. I don’t think I want to even conjecture. I sincerely hope, however, that my predecessor blesses me as much as I thanked God for John and Char in my first ten years.

On Monday, I spent time in prayer, journaling and Word. I also spent a good part of the day preparing for Cross Country practice and being there. But maybe my favorite part of the day came that night. Marty is a guy connected with Refuge through my ministry as a chaplain at the Barron County Justice Center (BCJC). He was released in late spring and has been a resident of Heart Island in Rice Lake since then. Heart Island, which is shaped like a heart, sticks out into the south end of Rice Lake. It is the home of Benjamin’s House Emergency Shelter, the Heart Island Family Enrichment Center, the Guest House and two Catholic nuns – Sister Jean and Sister Claudine. In Marty’s journey since he was incarcerated last December he has moved from a tiny flex cell at the JC to one of  the dorms to an apartment at Benjamin’s House to the downstairs half of the Guest House duplex. Six months ago, he lived in a room a little bigger than a phone booth. Now he has a room with a view looking over the bay – and the good news is he doesn’t have to pay taxes on it!

Color walk October 1991
 He hasn’t been feeling well for awhile and when he finally went to the doctor a few weeks ago he pronounced the death sentence on him: he has inoperable, terminal cancer. Apparently, it has progressed so far that while they could attempt treatment, it was the doctor’s opinion that it was too late to do anything except make him comfortable. In any case, Monday night I went up to see him and I brought Troy along. Troy, a former resident of the JC himself and now my partner in ministry to the inmates there, met Marty when I brought him to Refuge back in August. It wasn’t that they struck up an instant friendship but having both been former members of “the fellowship of the orange jumpsuit” they are connected by common experience. As we sat in Marty’s front room with the Sisters and his large Great Dane, Katie, laying between us, while I was the pastor it was Troy that Marty was listening to that night. And that made this moment common to every pastor very special indeed. A guy I had the blessing to lead to Christ and begin to disciple last year was sharing comfort and encouragement with a guy who began his Christian journey again just a few months ago. Before we left, I prayed and anointed Marty with oil but fittingly Troy got the last prayer in.

Christmas program Dec 1991
 That’s how my first day of my 22nd year ended, me and a former inmate of the Justice Center praying over another former inmate and homeless man dying of cancer. I had hoped to spend some time in prayer and reflection before I called it a day – a spiritual exercise in rededication to the work God has called me to - but when I got home, my early morning routine caught up with me and I was in bed and asleep before 10. I was up by 4 a.m. the next morning and soon after on the road running going after my next ten miles and at the onset of my next year of service in this wonderful place God has put me.

October 1991 - It's not about the building