I am writing each day in Lent (2015) about my adventures and misadventures in the churches I served in some pastoral capacity. [Since the forty days of Lent do not include Sundays, I take the Sabbath off.] Elsewhere in this blog’s history, there is ample note of the fact that much of my ministry was considered “non-parish,” that is, serving in ways not connected to individual churches, i.e., media, youth work, and teaching.

I’ve begun with my first official church work, a summer youth program accomplished during the middle of my seminary studies. Today, I want to write just a few lines about the five churches I served after seminary, and then, day-by-day, I’ll just jump from one story to another, not with any chronology, but just as the memories occur.

I was ordained in the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley in 1969, and was called to two part-time positions in Richmond, Va. One call fulfilled my interest in broadcasting, and the other position involved directing an ecumenical youth center. But in 1976 I was asked to take on my first parish work, a small church in Richmond’s West End, a congregation that was nearing the end of its life.

My role there was to be the “Stated Supply” Pastor for three months. I was adding that responsibility to what was already by then a full-time position in media for the presbytery. The position description was very limited: I would plan and lead worship each week (and preach, of course), I would be available for pastoral emergencies, and spend an afternoon in the church office in case someone needed to talk.

I’ll write of this situation in greater detail in days to come, but for now I note just two things: that three month term grew into a full year; and my sojourn at Calvary Presbyterian Church was the first time I had to write and preach sermons every week. I wasn’t at all in sync with that. By the way, don’t try looking the church up anywhere; it’s long gone. Not my fault, by the way.

A few years after that, I returned to part-time parish work at a much larger church near downtown Richmond. It was a church with which I had been connected in various ways since seminary days, and the church which housed the radio station where my first radio ministry took root. [When you have a few weeks more to read, go to http://www.celebrationrock.wordpress.com and you will find the whole story.]

Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church called me to be its “Minister for Youth and Video.” Yes, that’s right. Though I may not be remembering the title exactly, that’s very close to what I did there for two years. It was a ministry of convenience, or of opportunity for me. It coordinated nicely with my continuing media ministry, and rescued me from a Presbytery youth ministry position (part-time again, of course) that ill fit my administrative abilities or lack thereof. It turned out that the church youth and I got along better than I deserved, and the short time I spent in residence there produced some good stories: a robbery, an all night pilgrimage into the city with church teenagers, preaching to a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (and worse, a couple of my seminary professors), and being confronted by not-so-subtle forms of racism.

I must be more concise now, as I move toward the last three churches I served. The Bon Air Presbyterian Church in Richmond is, in my opinion, one of the great churches of our denomination. While my children and I had worshiped there for many years, it was only in my last five years in Richmond that I actually served on staff, as Associate Pastor for Liturgy and Congregational Care. When we go back to Richmond, we always look in on that congregation, and though changing times have reduced its numbers, it is still a vibrant church focused on ministries of music, peacemaking, social justice, and Christian love.

Another of the impressive churches of the Presbyterian Church USA is the small East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. When Joan and I felt called to uproot ourselves after all those years in Richmond, it was that 69 member rural church that invited me to serve as pastor. In many ways, it was an extraordinary experience, and I do believe it saved my life. I want to write about its people, its music, its dedication to local and global mission, and how that place changed Joan and me forever.

Finally, I have some stories to tell of our time in my last parish, the First Presbyterian Church of Ulysses, in Trumansburg, NY. While it presented some very serious challenges, I happened to be there, by the grace of God, at a significant time in that church’s life. Not many pastors get to help a church celebrate its Bicentennial, and renovate its worship space, and invite jazz into the sanctuary. Some of the other stories there will be more difficult to tell.

So, tomorrow… I think I’ll go to Vermont. There were no pennies in the stream, few sycamores…but there were many bends in the road, ski trails, and yes, moonlight in Vermont.

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