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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

Back in the Saddle Again (Sort Of)

It’s been ten years since I served in the parish, but when the invitation came to do an extended bit of supply preaching, I couldn’t resist. Chuck Trittin, the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Eagan, was going on sabbatical and All Saints needed someone to preach and lead worship during the sabbatical. All Saints is near my home, so I accepted the invitation. The congregation was even gracious enough to grant me a three-Sunday “vacation” early in the assignment while we took a previously-scheduled trip to what I think of as “the old country,” Ireland.

I’m a few weeks in now, and the experience has already reminded me of a few things:

  • It has reminded me of what it is like to be new! I’ve led several thousand worship services in my time, but not in this place. Who stands where when? How is communion distributed? When do we walk in? Walk out? Who is responsible for the altar set-up? I have a fresh sympathy for interns who are starting out in a congregation trying to figure all of this out without the benefit of all the worship leading experience I have had. Supervisors, when that new intern starts, take pains to walk them through the service before their first Sunday, and be patient with them when the inevitable flubs happen.
  • It has reminded me of the uniqueness of each congregation! I love the way All Saints typically does the Sunday announcements at the end of the service, just before the benediction, with the whole congregation standing up! This is an excellent way to encourage brevity. There are other little “quirks” as well, reflecting the character of the congregation and the building. They fit. Interns and supervisors, what are some of the unique qualities of your worship?
  • It has reminded me that there are singular individuals in each congregation. I’ve met the woman who moved to the Twin Cities because God directed her to bring her business here and organize Christian businesses in the area. After a sermon in which I talked about the 21st century cult of celebrity as contrasted to the anonymity of people like Matthias and Barsabbas, one gentleman found it necessary to tell me how much he hated the Kennedy family. Interns and supervisors, who are the singular people in your congregation? And, by the way, does your bishop consider you one of her/his singular people?
  • It has reminded me of the challenge of crafting a sermon every week for a particular congregation of particular people. When you do one-shot supply preaching, you develop your sermons for a theoretical congregation composed mostly of people you don’t know. You can do excellent exegetical work, and put together a homiletical masterpiece that would impress any professor. But when you are preaching to the same people every week and you get to know those people and the challenges they deal with and the challenges the congregation deals with, your sermons tend to have more human flesh on them, which makes them both more fulfilling and more challenging. A great old-time sportswriter named Red Smith once said “Good writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter until blood comes out your fingers.” He might have been talking about sermon writing. Interns and supervisors, what blood oozes out of your fingers when you write sermons these days?
  • It has reminded me of what fun this ministry thing is. OK, I’ve got the easy part. Worship. No committee meetings. No hospital calls. No building projects. No funerals. No weddings. But I walk into that church and catch a little glimpse of the excitement of leading a congregation, and I wish I could be young enough to take on a congregation again. What a great life! Interns and supervisors, are you having fun yet?


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