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My call to serve as the Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Medford, Oregon, was brief.  As it turned out, it was not from any planning on my part that I left after a little over two years.  My two sons, Stephen and Jason, were born there; and my first wife, Nancy, designed the house that was built for us to enjoy for only a brief period.  So when we had to move after such a short time, it was very difficult.  The short tenure was a result of some powerful members of the congregation plotting to remove the Senior Pastor.  He was in the unenviable position of following a beloved pastor who had served the church for over 30 years.  Their ploy was to issue an ultimatum to the Senior Pastor that the church could not afford two pastors, and that one had to go.  I was on vacation when the Senior Pastor called me, informing me of the threat and strongly urging me to cut short our vacation and return home so that we could talk.  We came to the conclusion that it was useless to try to fight the ultimatum.  Given the fact that we had time to look for calls, we decided to immediately update and circulate our dossiers; and whoever received a call first would go, leaving behind one pastor to satisfy their demand and to try to calm the unrest.  I received a call first, to the United Presbyterian Church, in Warm Springs.  First Presbyterian Church, Medford, was not all a waste of time.  I continued to grow and learn valuable lessons on how to be a pastor.  One memorable lesson came from Agnes Flanagan, who, ironically, was the wife of one of the key leaders seeking to reduce the pastoral staff.

Agnes Flanagan taught me the meaning of pastoral care.  I was in the 5th year of ministry when I made a pastoral visit to Agnes in the hospital.  She had just come through surgery.  I had no idea what constituted pastoral care.  For me at that particular moment, pastoral care was counseling; pastoral care was socializing; pastoral care was catching up on the news and the weather; pastoral care was presence.  As I concluded my visit with her and was about to leave, Agnes asked: “Cal, will you pray with me?”  I was stunned by her request.  Her request was like an arrow hitting the bullseye, piercing my heart.  I had spent the entire time by her bedside socializing and chatting away.  And when it came time to leave, she asked me to pray with her.

Pastoral care in any and all settings is plainly and simply taking time to pray.  You can do everything else—counsel, listen, talk, chat, socialize—but always make time to pray.  And if you are not comfortable doing that, then you have not learned to be a pastor, to be the spiritual leader you are called to be.

And what is prayer?  Like preaching, prayer is the task of connecting the Word of God with the words and events of the day, the moment.  Prayer is discernment, sensing as deeply as humanly possible what God is doing in that particular moment and situation.  Your prayer can include petitions and intercessions, daring to request from God what you want and feel is needed.  But ultimately (and that’s a good word), prayer is to affirm God’s healing and redeeming presence in this and every situation.  It is naming what God is already doing.  It is lifting up to God this particular child of God, confirming God’s unconditional love for her/him.  Prayer is that rare and precious moment when everything stops, nothing else matters except this particular child of God who has come into the center of God’s undivided attention and focus.  And you, the pastor, are the humble servant making that happen, helping to make the connection, affirming that relationship.

In this post about transitions, in which I have written about my leaving Medford for the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, I might as well talk about my leaving Calvary, Riverside, CA, also.  The Associate Pastor called me into his office at the end of my first year for the annual performance review, my first one ever in any line of work.  He is in charge of Christian Education and Youth and is my immediate supervisor.  He informs me that he has decided to ask for my resignation.  He is not happy with me or my work.  It has been a rocky first year, filled with conflict over how to do youth ministry.  It has been such a difficult year that I nearly suffered a nervous breakdown on my very first vacation.  Thanks to an emotionally charged Presbytery-wide youth conference in the mountains, I recovered.  At the conference, my grief came pouring out in a flood of tears.  My fellow adult advisors, including some of the youth from Calvary, provided me the unexpected support that I needed.  It was following this experience that I sat in the office of the Associate Pastor for my review.  I responded to him, “Well, you can take your request and shove it up your ass, I’m not resigning.  You’ll have to fire me!”  “So, you want to fight me?  You want to take it up with the session”?  “I’ll fight you all the way to Presbytery if I have to.”  It ended right there.  I remained in that position for 4 difficult, long years working with “my boss.”  To this day, I remain in relationship with several members of my first youth group. So I want to dedicate this post to the group—to Walt, Dave, Will, Ken, Jeff, Tom, Connie, Kathy, Elaine, Debbie, Lisa, Sally, Sharon, Lynn; and to Stan and Liz, a fabulous couple who served as adult advisors. At my going away celebration, the Associate Pastor told me that he was going to miss me.

4 thoughts on “Transitions”

    1. Pistol, there is “politics” in all human institutions. The role of pastor puts one right in the center of the “institutional” church. To be effective in ministry, one has to learn how to navigate these turbulent waters without compromising one’s integrity.

  1. In recent years I’ve had the time to engage in group Scripture studies. The more I learn, the more disillusioned I become about fundamental main line beliefs. It comes down to “good” people and “not-so-good” people, flawed “sinners” in varying degrees. Maybe it is just the Yin and Yang of things: you can’t have one without the other. Maybe the Associate Pastor is just the foil to test the individual, a Sarah Palin, a Trump. The Associate Pastor cannot play his role without you performing your role during the awful 4 years.

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