Born from below
In all the years I served as the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, there was no administrative staff. So when I was at the church working and preparing, I was always alone. In those long hours, I wandered softly through the scriptures, explored the deepest parts of my mind, chased little rabbits through my imagination, and strolled about the property itself, seeking out the wild and wooded places. But no matter how much time I spent by myself at church, I always knew that Sunday was coming. The solitude of my weekly work was only a preparation for sharing the fruit of that time with my community of faith. And so, as the week came to a close, I set up chairs, prepared orders of worship, and made ready for Sunday. Early on the first day of the week, before the sun came up, I arrived to go through the sermon and make last minute preparations. Daylight would come and then people would arrive. And I was always ready to greet them with a smile.
Suddenly, my little monastery was filled with people. There were hugs, prayers, confessions, grief, joy, and laughter. And then a gathering of everyone into an hour of worship, wherein my sermon was delivered at its proper time. Then it was over. There were more hugs, laughs, promises, and children running here-and-there, until, one-by-one, people would leave. Then I would be alone again at the church. Marveling at the debris left behind after the human drama of worship, I would straighten a few chairs, pick up papers, set lost Bibles and purses aside, and wipe doughnut crumbs from the kitchen counter. It was finished. Emotionally exhausted, I would turn out the lights, lock the doors, and proclaim to myself that another Sunday was under my belt.
There was a comforting and familiar rhythm to my life as a pastor. Solitude and preparation, followed by community and consumption. Be alone; be together. Breathe in; breathe out. Be filled; be emptied. Make ready; and be done.
Now those days are over for me. I am no longer the pastor of the church, but I do most of my writing there. Covenant Baptist Church is still my favorite writing place. The silence of the empty building and the wildness of our land makes the perfect place for this most solitary of callings.
But something is different now. The solitude is not the same. I am alone in my labors as before, but they are not leading me to a community consummation. Just solitude followed by more solitude. It is strange wandering the halls of the building and the trails on the land. I feel like a ghost who is haunting the places that were important to him in his former life. I come and go as I once did, but no one knows I was here. I have retained some of my simpler duties for the community. I am still on the cleaning rotation for the third weekend of the month, but I might not be here on Sunday morning to welcome worshippers to my mopped and shining sanctuary. I am in the labyrinth guild and recently spent quite a few hours clearing it of weeds and straightening its rock borders, but I was long gone before any pilgrim arrived to pick her way along its paths in that peculiar gait common to walked prayers.
It is a melancholy transition, to be sure, but a good one. I feel happy in this new time of life. Thanks be to the God of seasons, who declares things good for one time and not good for another. So it was good for me to declare truth from the pulpit for many years, my gift and offering in full view of all. Now it is good for me to clean and scour and pace these halls and trails in secret, with my left hand scarcely knowing what my right hand is doing.
I feel like a grain of wheat that has died, fallen into the soil, and lies unseen by those who walk by. Intuitively I knew that I had to put my old life to death. I am certain of this, though I cannot explain why it is true. I just know that I could no longer be the shepherd. It was not good for me to continue in that calling. And the only way I could find out of that role was to die to it.
Perhaps I will be born again into this delightful and quirky community called Covenant. Not born from above but born from below. Not born with my head above the pulpit but with my body rising from the soil of humble service.