Just got back from my first Lay Missionary Training Program retreat weekend. It's a chemically unenhanced college flashback -- I'm dressed in rumpled sweats, I'm so exhausted that I could put my head on my desk and fall asleep right now, and my brain is ready to explode with all the knowledge that's been stuffed into it in the last 48 hours. All that's missing is beer and The Who.
Not that I'm complaining. I'm grinning from ear to ear (at least I think I am...I'm too tired to feel my face) .
This is a program designed to help empower laypeople to better serve the Church in a variety of ways. I've known about it for several years, and have resisted getting involved for almost as long. Part of it was the name -- for some reason it conjured up images of Katharine Hepburn in "The African Queen" or some frothing nutcase smashing idols with an axe. Part of it was simple fear. Part of it was the idea that I needed to wait until things -- things in my life, things in the Church -- were "right." And I help out in my parish now; what substantive difference would this training make?
Every once in awhile I'd get a nudge from my pastor, a former LMTP mentor: "Hey, maybe you should think about that program. I think you'd really love it." Or one of my online friends would suggest that I pursue some type of ministerial training. I could shrug these off. But then...well, when The CEO comes headhunting, the pressure is on. Talk about "The Hound of Heaven." I kept backing down the hallway...The CEO kept coming closer, with that smile and wink and beckoning finger. "You don't really want me," I protested. I kept backing up; The CEO kept approaching.
"Nooooooooooooooooooo!" I sounded like Mr. Bill.
Finally I ran into a wall. The CEO put his hands on my shoulders.
"You're hired!" he whispered in my ear. (For the record, The CEO has much better hair than The Donald.)
So that's how I wound up spending two days in a church fellowship hall with thirty other people -- most of whom, interestingly, report similar recruitment techniques on the part of The CEO -- cramming three weeks of Old Testament class into a few hours...spending a few more hours studying the Creeds of the Church and "name that heresy"...worshipping...eating...sharing our faith stories and describing our experiences at our parishes. I met some amazing people: An older gentleman who until about five years ago could not read at all, but wanted desperately to learn how to read so he could read the Bible; now he is a lector at his church, and an enthusiastic advocate for community literacy programs. A few restless retirees, active in their churches but wanting more. A quietly intense woman with a tupelo-honey accent whose evening reading of the Psalms was like music, and who actually got a bunch of Lutherans to shout "Amen!" (Near-miraculous, that.) A pastor whose pre-seminary journey out of and back into Christianity was eerily similar to mine, who gave me an encouraging word -- more than one. A couple of people with surprising, six-degree connections to friends from the past. All people who have spent some serious living time -- who, in the words of "The Velveteen Rabbit," have had some fur rubbed off somewhere, somehow, in the process of becoming Real.
I'm liking this. A lot. Thanks be to God.