I’m spending this week tracking down all the places on Kortright’s website where Don McCallum’s name appears as a contact. I will admit it is a weird feeling. It’s also an interesting little dance trying to figure out where to draw the line. It’s going to be a bit of a dance for a while I’m sure, but eventually it will all get worked out.
One of the interesting aspects of this is how to refer to Rev. Ralph Neil. Ralph has agreed to take on the bulk of the Sunday morning teaching duties for the duration of the interim process. With a few decades experience under his belt in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations he’s an excellent choice and we are blessed to have him and his wife Bonnie around.
He’s a great guy and a good preacher, but what do I call him? He’s not the pastor, he’s just the person who will be preaching on Sunday mornings. And while he is an ordained minister, to call him the minister also has connotations of permanence that are likely best avoided. I’ve settled on the title ‘Interim Speaker’ based on some input from members of session and a learned friend of mine. And while it works for reference purposes, it too is a less than perfect choice.
The word ‘interim’ seems to hold different connotations for different people. This is best illustrated by something I overheard during the picnic lunch after Don’s last service. One person in the line up for coffee said to another, “I hope the process of finding a new pastor doesn’t take too long. Once this interim period is over we’ll be able to get back to normal.”
Now, while I agree with the sentiment that the process should not drag on too long (personally I’d like to see us with a new pastor in time for our 30th anniversary in Sept 2010) I really hope we never have to “get back to normal” because I don’t want to see us leave normal in the first place. The ‘interim’ is not about abandoning normal for the next year or so and then getting ‘back to normal’ later on. At least, I don’t think it should be.
Because the ‘normal’ operation of the church is not dependent on who the pastor may or may not be. The normal operation of the church is to love God, love others, care for the poor and the sick, comfort the heart-broken, lift the downtrodden, and proclaiming the good news to the nations. This is not of course an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. These activities should make up the normal daily life of the church and should be continuing to take place regardless of who’s preaching, who’s on session, or who’s making the coffee between services.
This, for me, is the challenge of the next few months, not putting church life on hold until the search process is over. The pastor is just another member of the congregation, a significant member to be sure; a member with great responsibility without question; but in the end, still a member of the congregation along with the rest of us. And it is the congregation that determines what ‘normal’ is in the life of the church.
The period Kortright is facing is not like summer reruns on television and when the new ‘host’ is hired we will “return to our regular programming.” The months to come are integral part of the life of the church. It is, if you’ll excuse an entirely over-worn expression, our ‘new normal.’ It’s part of the process that God is taking us through to make who He needs us to be to bring about His kingdom here on earth.
The pastor can and should be used by God to influence that process; he or she can show us from the Word what God expects normal to look like. But ultimately it is the congregation who, by their actions and testimony as they live their lives before the world, determines what is the day-to-day normal of the church. And they need to keep doing that regardless of who is occupying the pulpit, either permanently, or just for the interim.
Hanging in for the duration… Shalom.