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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Time to step up

I began service in my first call on July 1, 1967. I was an assistant pastor. The senior pastor took ten days to break me in and then left for a two-week European vacation.

It was a large, downtown church in a major Eastern city. It was the summer of 1967, a summer that was riddled with urban rioting. Our city was no exception. When the senior pastor had been gone for two days, rioting broke out and reached into the neighborhood around the church. Our block was put under a dusk to dawn curfew. Armed national guardsmen stood on the corner outside the church and outside my apartment a few blocks away.

I was the pastor in charge. People looked to me to make sense of what was happening, to speak up for the church’s interests, to allay their fears. Community leaders and leaders of the faith community looked to me to speak for our congregation. I knew that I was out of my depth, that I was not prepared for this level of responsibility in such an incendiary situation. But there was no choice about it. It had to be done, and with the support of lay leaders and partner pastors, I did my best to do what needed to be done. It was time to step up.

Some of you who are interns are being called upon to “step up” and perhaps take responsibility that seems beyond you. Supervisors are getting sick, having surgery, going on sabbatical, resigning, and all of a sudden a larger portion of the burden of the pastoral leadership of the congregation is on your shoulders. You never asked for it, but there it is. In some cases this is something you planned for; in many cases it is not.

If you are one of those drafted into stepping up, remember that you are not alone. There are strong lay leaders in your congregation who are ready to work with you and support you and go the second and third and fourth extra mile in partnership with you. There are neighboring pastors who want only the best for you and the congregation you serve.  Our staff stands ready to offer a listening ear or a comforting shoulder or a word of counsel. And most important of all, God is in there with you; the power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in your congregation.

It might be time to step up, but you are not alone!

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