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.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Hail to do we call you now?

"Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you...Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." Jeremiah 29:7, NIV

"Shalom means wholeness, the dynamic, vibrating health of a society that pulses with divinely directed purpose and surges with life-transforming love. Seek the shalom and pray for it. Throw yourselves into the place in which you find yourself, but not on its terms, on God's terms. Pray. Search for that center in which God's will is being worked out (which is what we do when we pray) and work from that center."  Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best by Eugene H. Peterson

For most of you who regularly read this blog this will be old news by now but last Tuesday, April 5, I was elected mayor of the City of Chetek. Of the 673 citizens who voted, 481 voted for me which adds up to about 75% of the cast votes. Whether that translates into a mandate or not you decide but one thing is for certain: I now have an office at city hall.

Following my primary win in February, I determined that before this was through I would visit every home in Chetek. In the eight days prior to the election, every night after track practice until dark as well as on the Saturday and Sunday before, I went door-to-door handing out my home-made fliers through the four wards of the city. That in itself was an education. Not everybody was home, of course, and there were a few homes that their dog looked ornery enough that I chose to pass but during that peripatetic week before the election I passed out nearly 900 fliers.

This was one of them

My spiel was brief: “Hi, my name is Jeff and I'm running for mayor. We have an election next week and I'd appreciate your consideration.” Most took my flier, wished me luck, said 'thank-you' and the like. Several smiled at me and said they were going to be out of town on Tuesday but they had already cast their absentee ballot in my favor. After handing out my flyer to the lady of the house at one home, her husband chased me down and offered to help me in my canvassing. On the cold days, I would be offered a cup of hot coffee or hot chocolate. And a few invited me in and were curious to learn my position on certain matters.

In fact, of all the homes I stopped at only three refused my hand-out: one because she informed me that she wasn't voting for me, one because she informed me that she made it a habit to never vote and one because...well, she didn't give me an answer. Otherwise people were generally friendly and encouraging which made this experience more fun than I ever expected it would be.

There are a few moments during my travels I will remember for a long time to come, however:

■ On Saturday afternoon, after walking for hours, I needed a break. As I looked at the ward map I noticed that a mile or more out of town at the end of a dead-end road sandwiched against the interstate was a house that though surrounded by the Town of Prairie Lake was actually in the city limits. I drove out there for a look-see. I had run out there several times before and knew that there was a house there but I wasn't aware that it inhabited. But when I pulled up, a man came out to meet me. His name is Chuck and he lives all by himself at the end of this dead-end road. “No one ever comes out this way,” he remarked to me. I introduced myself and told him why I was there. He then asked me a question about his water bill to which I had no answer. “Why don't you call Carmen?” I suggested (Carmen is the city clerk and the real person in charge in these here parts). “Good idea,” he replied. “You've got my vote.” That five minute conversation was worth the drive.

■ On Monday evening, I was reminded of the fact that more and more people in town don't really use their front door (neither do the Martins, for that matter). After knocking on a front door and surmising that it was more or less decoration, I heard the lady of the house speaking on her phone through an open window. As I moved to the back door, in the interim she had concluded her phone call and presumably moved to the front door but now I was banging on her back door. As she was coming to the door she remarked, “Make up your damm mind,” and then turned a shade of pink when she realized who it was. “Pastor, I'm so sorry. Please come in.” I quickly put her at ease – after all, I'm the one who provoked her – and she had me sit at her dining room table so she could learn who I was running against. After we conferred a bit she looked at me and said, “Pastor, you're a good man, an honest man and you have a good reputation in town. So, you have my vote. And I'm sorry for swearing.”

■ But maybe the crème de la crème for me was the gift from our neighbor John. John describes himself as an avowed atheist. As far as I know he has been so his whole adult life. Though something of a recluse from time to time over the years he has taken me to task for sponsoring prayer events on school grounds and has threatened to turn me into the A.C.L.U. (even though none of these events have ever occurred while school has been in session). That's not to say we've been on bad terms. Most summers he hires me to cut his lawn. And many of the things that grow perennially in our yard come from his, gifts he has brought us over the years. But on the Saturday before the election he placed a book in our back door entryway with this inscription in his spidery handwriting:




It's about a close as an endorsement as I'm gonna get. Even if I never read it, I will hold on to that book for a long time to come as I so appreciate the gesture it represents.

So now I'm in for the next two years. It's a part-time job and traditionally the hours are set by the mayor himself. He or she can be as busy as they want to be. What do I do? Among other things, I will be responsible to facilitate the monthly council meetings and serve on other committees as well as appoint others to serve on such. I'll represent the city, and, along with the council, provide oversight to the police department. Beyond that, it will be a work in progress. As my father-in-law has already forewarned me I will find out what I'm supposed to do as I fail to do certain things and then I'll be duly informed of what I should have done. All that aside, I'm really looking forward to my OJT.

In the nearly 25 years we have lived here, all the mayors have been retirees. I will be the first in recent memory who is still working his craft (I will continue to pastor Refuge and coach HS CC as well as MS track). What's more, as far as I can tell, I am the first pastor who has ever been elected mayor of our fine city. What this will look like I can't say yet but I think it could be a very good thing. I certainly hope it will.

When this journey began back in December, I posted at this site my reasons for running for elected office. What I stated in that post remains the same (Why I'm running for office). I have no agenda whatsoever except to do what the Lord exhorted the exiles to do while they lived in Babylon:

 “Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” (Jeremiah 29:7, The Message). 

Most of us know that the word “well-being” (elsewhere translated “peace” or “welfare”) is the best English equivalent of the Hebrew word “shalom”. “Shalom” means way more than you or I just putting up a “peace sign.” It means wholeness, health, justice, and being at peace with one another. That's what I have been after as a pastor in the City of Chetek. That's what I'll be after as mayor of the City of Chetek, working for the well-being of our entire community.

This whole thing has been fun for so many people in town. As one of my friends remarked to me several weeks ago, “You're the non-establishment candidate in this race.” I'm pretty sure his comparison with me to Trump ended right there but my candidacy seemed to energize a whole lot of people. Kids at Roselawn, kids at the middle and high school, people in the neighborhood, seniors at the nursing home. In fact, the operative question this past week has been, “What do we call you now? Mayor-Pastor or Pastor-Mayor?” A friend from Refuge suggested MASTOR (you know, Mayor and pASTOR). A Children's Pastor serving in Eau Claire who grew up at Refuge suggested, GAPO – Great and Powerful Oz – but when I mentioned that to a friend at the fitness center yesterday he said, “Nah, you don't want to be the man behind the curtain. You want to be the one in front of it.” So, I guess in the end people will call me what they want – I'll answer to most.

The City Clerk will swear me in today at City Hall at lunch time (or, as she remarked laughingly, swear at me). It will be Carmen, Linda and I and Dilly Bars all around as it should be for the pastor of the fellowship that's right behind the Dairy Queen.