I was away from my home church for decades, my home church being the one in my hometown, the place where I grew in years and understanding. When I was away at college, my family (parents and my five younger siblings) moved via an IBM transfer to North Carolina. At that point, I stopped going “home” to Endicott, NY, and instead, visited my family in Raleigh. As a seminary student in Virginia, I traveled back to Upstate New York only to huddle with various church committees to prepare for my ordination. After that most important occasion at my home church, I moved away, and visits to Endicott were few and, yes, far between.

After a few decades in ministry, I retired, by the grace of God, to a town within seven miles of my home church. I had thought that one blessing of retirement would be the pleasure of visiting several area churches over a period of up to a year, to sample various preachers, choirs, church organs, and faith communities, not necessarily in that order. However, within a couple of weeks of settling into our new home, I went back to my home church, to “sample” it.

My search for a new church home ended at my first church home. I’ve written before that it was the church where my parents had married, and the church where I was baptized, and then confirmed, and ultimately ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament. And that first Sunday back in that sanctuary, I found a pew and sat down next to Marilyn Bombard, who had been a “youth group advisor” when I was a teenager. I looked around and saw a few other faces that might have been familiar, if many years hadn’t aged them beyond my memory of their middle years.

And I saw many new faces, too, something one would hope would happen to a church over the course of four decades. The bad news was, and this was no surprise given what had happened to so-called mainline churches over those same four decades, there were far fewer folk gathering there for worship. But the good news of that first visit back was the pastor! Exclamation point!

The first thing I noticed about her was her liturgy, the printed prayers in the worship bulletin. Even before she spoke them, I saw that they were from the Iona Community in Scotland, a community which had welcomed Joan and me for a week’s stay a few years before. I had used the Iona resources in my last church, and those words in the bulletin hinted at a certain liturgical sensibility that I was more than comfortable with.

Throughout the service that morning, from the “Call to Worship” to the “Benediction,” it was as if I had put it all together myself. See, the reason that was so significant to me at the time was that I might have gone home to find that the liturgy of my home church’s worship was too stuffy, too (um) “praisey,” or “ho-hum.” But it fit like the proverbial glove.  

And then there was the pastor, Pat Raube. Her sermon was right on the mark. Just as if I had written it. I smile as I write that, of course. But from that day to this, a couple of years later, our theology is in sync, her sermons are well constructed (she knows how to write a good sentence; many preachers I’ve heard since retiring have some trouble matching nouns and verbs, sad to say), and her preaching style is warmly conversational, but not folksy. I so appreciate the fact that she writes out her well-crafted sermons, and then delivers them without sounding as if she’s reading them word for word.

Having gotten to know her well since that first Sunday, we’ve become good friends, enjoying lunch together on occasion, and sharing quick conversations on Sundays and other times I stop by the church. Even as we speak together as colleagues in ministry, I am always aware that she is my pastor. What a comfort for a pastor to have one, especially a retired pastor like me. I’m kind of picky. I consider this a great and wonderful gift from God, a fine pastor who is courageous, honest, trustworthy, and able to leap tall steeples in a single bound… that and a new connection to the church of my childhood, a church which will undoubtedly be home to my memorial service (many years hence, I imagine).

One more thing about Pat Raube: she has a fine singing voice. The other night at Lenten Vespers, she and her daughter sang selections from Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.” The Sunday before she had played guitar and sung a folk/pop song that concluded her sermon in a very appropriate way. Sometimes that is hard to pull off without being showy. But she provided a very natural segue from sermon to song, and it worked beautifully.

As I’ve written these reflections on each day of Lent, I realize that many of the people whose lives I’ve celebrated are “past tense” mentors and teachers. But, thank God, my life isn’t over and I still have quite a lot of following to do. Lots to learn, more steps to take, deep breathing to be done. And so there’s Pastor Pat.