Friday, March 12, 2010

Ministry Rubber: Meet Road

My adventures in lay ministry are about to take a new and more intensive turn.

Our pastor is on the docket for open-heart surgery in less than two weeks. He had been experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath during his volunteer first-responder runs that were worrisome to him, more than something attributable to simply physical exertion or stress, so his doctor put him through some diagnostic tests...and found that he has a severely blocked artery needing a double bypass.  This appears to have been  a shock for all concerned.

So we've been given ten days to get a contingency plan together for how our church is going to run during the almost three months that we can reasonably expect our pastor to need for convalescence.

We had a meeting last night -- the pastor, the lay ministry team, the church council -- and we came up with a plan. What's good is that it's not going to rock the world of our congregation more than it has to be. After some pow-wowing with our synod, our pastor is going to invite his clergy colleague -- someone with expertise in interim ministry who's also comfortable working with lay ministers and who, through our pastor, is very much in tune to how things work in our parish -- to supervise and mentor us lay ministers for the months to come. We envision a weekly staff meeting. This pastor will also be available to do the sort of heavy-lifting pastoral duties that we are not authorized or trained to perform. But weekly worship and the everyday chaplaincy and visitation tasks of the parish, as well as the sort of drop-in/call-in support and referral work that goes on during the week, are all going to be our lay-ministry dog, Charlie Brown, as much as possible. We are also serving the secondary but important function of running interference for our pastor and his wife, who are already getting fatigue by the constant stream of well-wishers coming to the parsonage door, and who will really need their private, recuperative time after the surgery.

As you  might recall, our pastor went on sabbatical last summer, an experience that gave us all a taste of how to "do church" in his absence. So we aren't deer-in-the-headlights here. In fact, after our meeting-of-the-whole, we lay ministers stayed afterward and hammered out a pretty comprehensive schedule for Sunday and Wednesday worship.

But it is a sobering situation, and a sobering responsibility. We hope we're up to it, and can invest the entire congregation in the process of keeping things going smoothly into the summer.

If you have a moment, send up a prayer for our pastor and his wife, and for our ministerial team.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Our pastor is on an extended leave for health/family reasons and will be back after Easter, but will surely have some cut backs in her normally works-too-much schedule. Her leave started much earlier than anticipated due to unfortunate health issues. We've had a very active group of lay leaders for years, lectors, preachers, liturgists, and a lay person authorized to preside at communion, etc. so in some ways things are the same as always, and yet, not so. Some people aren't attending. And we miss her. Really, people don't know what they are missing if they stay away because the lay preachers are great speakers with a depth of faith. And it isn't easy to know if some of these people are attending elsewhere or just being lazy. There are two churches, one about 5 miles, one about 15 miles away, that are "former" ELCA churches which left for reasons that predated the VOTE.

So it will be interesting to see what transpires after Easter, especially since we are at the beginning of a capital campaign.

LutheranChik said...

See, I don't understand the attitude of "The pastor's away, so we can stay home" -- especially because we're maintaining the full-meal deal, so to speak, in Sunday worship.

I'd like to think that people can see themselves as part of our pastor's support team, and keep coming to church as a part of that support. I can't really say that our attendance last year went down that much during our pastor's sabbatical -- no more than it always does in the summertime.

I do think we'll probably make a concerted effort to keep up our rapport with newer members and frequent visitors, who may feel as if they're in a rudderless ship (even though the rest of us know it's business as usual).

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

We have more people in summer than in winter, actually two different groups. The summer people are summer residents plus the locals who aren't working or "taking the summer off." The winter people are the locals until they decide to go south for a couple of months. Right now we're a bit sparse, maybe down to 80 people on a Sunday, but Wed. nights are the slimest ever, and I attribute that to not good communication.

Deb said...

My church spent almost 2 years without a pastor, led almost solely by a team of laypeople (and I was part of this team.) It can be done, and it sounds as though you are very well prepared. Just remember to find rest and nurture for yourselves as you feed the flock. Some of weren't very good at that!

Tom in Ontario said...

I don't announce when I'll be away. It does get into the calendar but I didn't think anybody looked at that. And even though I try to be very quiet about being away from church there's still a drop in attendance when I'm away. And even though there's no meal when I'm away, the Service of the Word is a nice change once in a while.

Prayers for your pastor and spouse. And excitement and prayers for you lay ministers in the interim. Fun stuff ahead for you (read that totally seriously, not a smidgen of sarcasm in that).