Our pastor is going on sabbatical this summer, getting some inspiration for his other, artistic vocation by traveling by motorbike around the perimeter of the U.S. to photograph and write about works of public and "outsider" art.
This means, of course, that we lay ministers will be front and center leading worship for the better part of three months, both on Sunday morning and at our midweek Evening Prayer. Even considering our fairly relaxed schedule now -- we each take turns assisting once a month, and once a month one of us preaches -- I'm ready to take on greater worship responsibility.
But we will also be increasing our presence in the parish office. At our last meeting, when we sat around discussing how best to deal with the "pastor gap" this summer, I suggested that simply being present at the church for regular office hours might help keep things running smoothly. The others agreed; and because of where we are in our lives, we're each able to take one day a week to be in the office to answer the phone and greet walk-in visitors. Obviously pastoral counseling is not a part of this equation; we will be armed with a list of referral phone numbers for the usual situations that go on in our neighborhood (usually, sadly, struggling families calling for emergency assistance). But we also told the pastor we were willing to take on more hospital and shut-in visitation ourselves.
This will be something new for me, but I think I can do it competently. I've spent enough time in hospitals and care institutions with my own family members to be fairly unrattled by the experience, and I think being one step removed personally from the situation will help. My one big qualm about the whole thing is big-city driving, which I do not in any way enjoy, and which actually causes me more anxiety than the thought of communing someone in ICU or being with a family on a difficult day. I'm hoping that requests for visitation on my watch will involve less harrowing trips to smaller hospitals that people around here tend to wind up in for their routine ailments. Or that Fellow Traveler, who enjoys urban driving, can be bribed into piloting me if necessary. ("Hey! Want to go to Whole Foods by way of U of M Hospital?") I know that attitude is not very pastorly; but on the other hand I am not a pastor.
None of this, by the way, is a paying proposition. Which is why I think the lay ministry program is such a useful program for small/underfunded churches. Our presence in our parish increases the flexibility of our ministries and our pastor's schedule tremendously. It's a good thing.