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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

The best laid plans and all that

While I have spent most of my life in and around cities, I grew up in southeastern Iowa, never far from farmland, and one of my first jobs involved driving various trucks around Iowa and Illinois, so there is something about farm fields embedded firmly in my soul. I find it relaxing and renewing to drive across the southern Minnesota countryside.

So I was cheerful and anxious in a positive way the other day when I looked forward to driving to Shalom Hill Farm outside Windom to meet with the Southwestern Minnesota-South Dakota Internship Cluster. I’ve made the trip before, and anticipated a nice, refreshing early morning drive through the fields.

Yeah, right. The rain between the Twin Cities and St. Peter was steady. It seemed like the sun was never going to come up, and when it did, it came up grudgingly through a thick cloud of fog that made it all the more adventurous steering through the various construction areas here and there. “Morning Edition” was on an endless loop of presidential debate analysis. The fog persisted all the way to Shalom Hill Farm. When I got out of the car I could feel stiffness, tightness, the fruits of three hours of white-knuckle driving.

Reminded me of lots of confirmation classes, council meetings, committee meetings, counseling sessions, weddings I experienced as a parish pastor. Ahead of time I would envision them as times of open, honest, thoughtful, compassionate, enthusiastic sharing; occasions when people would speak to each other and listen to each other and the mission of the church would move along. But they didn’t always turn out that way. Sinful humanity, my own included, often got in the way.

But then I got a cup of coffee and a piece of coffee cake and the other participants in the meeting arrived and we talked and we listened and shared joys and sorrows and we laughed and we ate and we sang and we shared communion, and it was good. By the time the meeting was over and we were heading home, the fog had lifted; if it wasn’t a picture-perfect day for the countryside, it was at least a little better than it had been in the morning. My muscles did not cramp on the way home, and when I got tired of listening to “All Things Considered” continuing the analysis of the previous night’s presidential debate, I had Jimmy Buffet to cheer me up, and it was good. The day was good.

And so were many of those confirmation classes, council meetings, committee meetings, counseling sessions, weddings. (In the interest of honest communication, not all of them, but many of them.) They might not have been what I dreamed of them being before they started, but they found their own way to be good and productive and mission-related. We are fortunate to be in the service of a God who is constantly visiting us with divine surprise.

So make those plans, interns and pastors; have those dreams and those visions. Then be prepared for the fact that things might not work out according to your plan or your vision, but they might just work out fine anyway! Enjoy the ride.

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