With the Olympic Games in Sochi just around the corner, I started thinking about all the athletes who attend the Games and never win a medal. The hours of practicing, sacrifice and dedication don’t get noticed by the media. Yet, for the love of their sport, they persevere.
Then I began to reminisce about the “Olympians” in the Church. Perhaps you can think of faithful ones who never get up to preach, sing or read, but faithfully come, week after week, to serve. It seems to me they deserve a medal of sorts.
So, for this week’s Friday Five, share stories or memories of those “medalists” of the Church who have encouraged you in their faithfulness.
My Church Olympians:
1. Mrs. Eaton, Mr. Brownell, the Greves and all my Sunday School teachers from years and years ago. I was one of several gifted students in a very large, very active class at my small-town, family-sized church in the 1980s. Looking back on those years always brings a mixture of pride and embarrassment for me, because we were a rough bunch to manage and those who were employed to keep us in line did so with very little thanks at the time. Today Beloved and I are actually engaged in shifting the focus of faith formation in the church we serve because of what we experienced: entire generations of children being dropped off by their parents for volunteers to 'educate' in the faith so we could spit them out at Confirmation. It was the model we had and we believed it was the way we were supposed to do it. That it often wasn't working in no way minimizes the faithfulness of these wonderful people, particularly those who had to wrangle difficult classes like mine. We did the best we could with what we knew, and I believe God wants us to honor those efforts and be thankful for the people who gave so much (and continue to give!)
2. Jim, Steve, Mike, the Sno-Cone Queen, Wayne, Trudy and all the staff at Carol Joy Holling Camp when I was a camper from 1985-1989. Even though my home congregation was a group of warm, friendly families, church wasn't always easy for a clumsy, artsy, easily-frustrated kid like me. But my parents dropped me off in the Covered Wagon village sometime in late summer 1985 and I discovered that there were people who would do anything to find what God was up to with me. For the next five years I would look forward to church camp like nothing else, and every year I'd spend most of Saturday afternoon & Sunday after camp sniffling because I missed it so much. I wonder what would have happened to me if I'd never been led to that wonderful "place set apart to grow in Christ." My counselors and the staff gave me something I desperately needed, and I'm forever grateful.
3. Sunni Richardson, program director for NLOM while I was on staff from 1993-1997 and beyond. Imagine this scenario: every fall, you are responsible for finding, vetting and hiring 85 college students. They will be required to work 23 hours a day 5 days a week (everyone gets an hour break each day) for far less than minimum wage. Then you have to gather them together and train them up for the summer in 10 days. You have to cover health & safety rules - mandatory reporting policies - dress code - inter staff relationship management - personality conflicts - the basics of Lutheran theology - worship - CPR certification - and a host of other stuff that I can't remember anymore. Then you must turn those 85 college students loose on approximately 2,000 campers over the course of the summer. You have to manage problems - find replacements for the folks who wash out - teach and cajole and instruct and discipline - and when it's all over, you pack it all up and start over again after a short vacation. My mind still swims when I think about the array of skills it takes to do that job and do it well. I learned so much about leadership from you, Sunni, and I'm still learning. Thanks for all you have given to the church over the years.
4. The Council, Committee members and other staff and volunteers at St. Petri Lutheran Church, where I currently serve as pastor. I get paid to do my job. I love it and want to do it well. But no church can survive on its pastor alone. Here at St. Petri we have a wonderful array of folks in unpaid lay leadership positions who collectively contribute an astonishing amount of work to promote and carry out the mission of our church. In the past month in particular, these people have put together annual reports, finalized our budget and financial matters, closed out their terms on committees, begun new terms in different positions of leadership, managed 3 funerals in 9 days, run sound systems and projection screens for worship, played music, vacuumed, vacuumed again, served bars & coffee and generally made our congregation a welcoming, nourishing place to be. Again, I'm grateful.
5a. Non-rock-star pastors. Wednesday night I drove to Cedar Falls to listen to Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber speak. Over 700 of us gathered for the night and we raised $10,000 for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Nadia signed books after the address and a great time was had by all. It's wonderful to know that a fellow ELCA pastor is featured on the NY Times bestseller list and providing a fascinating public witness to the good news as we ELCA folks understand it. A rising tide raises all ships. But there are thousands of ELCA pastors out there who are proclaiming the same good news without the public fanfare. Hours in sermon preparation, at hospital bedsides, teaching confirmation, trying to grow as leaders and disciples, going to Synod Assemblies, unclogging toilets, shoveling walks - you name it, your pastor is doing it as faithfully as she or he knows how. I think within all of us there's a bit of ego that sees the attention Nadia gets and feels jealous - I know I certainly struggle with it. I also know there's a lot of crap that comes with that attention, and it's exhausting for Nadia to deal with it. You probably don't want any of that, non-rock-star-pastor, but I'm willing to give you a bit of the ego scratch if you want it. Thank you for your work. It may be that the only public attention you receive for a lifetime of faithful service is an obituary blurb in the back of The Lutheran, but there are people in your congregations whose lives you have altered for the better, and that's nothing to sniff at.
5b. Nadia Bolz-Weber. For your passionate witness to the gospel, for your intelligence and bravery, for your willingness to deal with your shit in front of an entire denomination, for your stamina these past few months as you've traveled to promote Pastrix, for your ability to spear my sacred cows one minute and remind me the gospel is bigger than either of us the next, I thank you. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.