So this year the realization dawns on us that we've been doing this pastoral ministry work for thirty years. And that's just a wee bit crazy I think.
Thirty years ago, we graduated from college and moved to a small town in Southern Ontario to learn from and work with a church there. In 1986 we began with the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church in Aylmer, working alongside a well seasoned pastor, Ben Wiebe. He and his wife Nettie helped Lauralea and I find our feet in this pastoral work. We were soon elected to a Lay Pastor position with the church, which was bi-vocational, and oh how I learned and grew in the foundations of this ministry.
Those were such good days. Blessed, welcomed, provided for by God's own hand. Lauralea worked as a teacher at a local Bible School, and before my shift at the pizza place, I'd make us supper. We'd eat and off I'd go for the late shift.
Our Sundays and "Freetime" were spent in pastoral work. Visiting, preaching, working with the youthful ones, and the english ones. Then we had our two girls, and soon after, a church in Winnipeg called us to come help them with a new church there.
And suddenly, it's 2016 and thirty years are gone.
I feel blessed. I think I feel mostly blessed to have made it so far.
It's been anything but easy. In fact it's been hard, really hard. There have been times in these years when I tried to leave, tried to abandon the calling, the invitation God has given me to work alongside him, with peoples hearts.
Oh I've applied for other jobs, written resignation letters, tried to quit with grace and a sense that that was the way forward. But never to great success. I attribute the longevity to people praying for me, for us. There are too many names to list, but my grandparents have been primary in that work. When they died, others have had to pick up the slack. Which they must have done, because we are still here, so far.
It's been hard because its been people work. Heart work. Spiritual work. If you've ever been around humans, well you can understand.
Its dang lonely work. Sometimes really really lonely. And in the quiet of the aloneness, it can all close in on you. Thank God, literally I do, that Lauralea has been there to walk with me through these years. We've grown up together in this work and in our spirits. I've said it before, if a pastor is the one who prays for you and points to God at work in your life, and pulls you back on the path while giving you permission to leave and to be yourself, then she's been my pastor these years. No lie.
I feel blessed because of all the amazing experiences I've had and seen and walked through as a pastor. Incredible beginnings and end of life moments. Seen things no human sees, participated side by side with the work of angels, seen blind people see, and sick and as good as dead people come back to life with just a prayer and the breath of God.
Seeing the addicted set free, seeing the lost find home, seeing the hopeless find hope. Oh my, the things I've seen. Just seeing God be Himself, the enemy flees, his friends filled with utter joy. It's pretty life changing, even for a pastor.
So I've been blessed with such an abundance of experiences, learning, and time in the work. And I've been blessed with gifts and wisdom and time to practice these sorts of things from the hand of God Himself. That's such a rich grace to me.
I still don't put a lot of stock in the title or the position, like I told the church last Sunday, I've spent a good deal of time trying to undo those positional expectations, so I can just be a guy God used. That pleases me.
I know that I am imperfect in all things and being a great dad was one of those struggles. But we had/have great kids. Little humans with strong spirits who broke the stereotypical pastors kids thing. We never really expected that from them, at least that was always my hope. We tried to expect the same choices from them even if I worked at McDonalds for a living. Sometimes the church people tried to expect more, too much more. But I was glad to put that pushy darkness back in its place and call it by name.
But that's all their story now. Their version of these things will shape their direction and thats how it should be.
After thirty years, things are shifting again. When I was in my twenties, most of my most fruitful work was with twenty year olds. When I was in my thirties and forties, my work was effective with the thirty and forty year olds. I'm guessing that's normal. But here I am now in my fifties.
The natural thing is to look for spiritual care from those a bit older from ourselves. I guess twenty or thirty years difference does start to make a difference. If that's the road ahead then that's a bit sad for me. I always liked the young people the best. They're pretty much honest people. Live life and faith full steam ahead. They are not stuck in some broken cycles just yet. Not giving up on hope, not settling for second best, in life or in their relationship with God.
But we'll see how it goes. God knows our hearts and desires.
And maybe that's a good point to close on. I never saw this sort of a life in my future, I never would have chosen it, I think, but God knew these things. Time and time again He seems to know the best for me, go figure. And so as I let him be God of my life, while I take up the position of mere mortal, things work out so much better than when I try to swap roles with Him.
It's a good thing, and I am well blessed.
Thirty years in.
*And thanks to Randy Stonehill for the title of this post, and the memories of what it was like to live on the other side of Thirty :)
And thanks to those of you who knew the reference. You have journeyed these thirty years alongside us. Culturally at least.