No, I do not subscribe to people having former lifetimes in other times in history.  Last evening I spent some time back in a part of my life that seems a distant memory even though it ended only sixteen months ago.  It is as if my forty years of ministry exists in a former lifetime.  There were feeling swirling around throughout the evening.

The fire happened three years ago.  I got a distressing phone call from the Rector of the Episcopal church, St. David’s, across the intersection from the church of which at that time I was the Senior Pastor.  I called Mary, who was willing and able to come over and stay with Mary Ann freeing me to rush over to check out our church and give Fr. Don some moral support.

It was arson.  The damage was extensive.  It was painful to see such an important place in the hearts and minds of so many people rendered uninhabitable in a few hours.  The vision of an elegant organ console charred and pipes melted, in a heap on the floor beneath the balcony is almost unbearable to those who have sung to that organ, whose spirits have been lifted by it for numbers of years.  I did not go in and see it.  I am remembering from the comments of some who did.

I had the privilege of being able on behalf of our congregation to offer support, a place to hold the first worship on the Sunday following the fire.  I will never forget that worship Service early in the afternoon, after our three morning services were concluded.  The church was packed with the members and friends of St. David’s Congregation.  There was a bond created that day that has since brought continuing joy to both our faith communities. The pattern of worship and the visual style of the worship rooms of the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions are virtually identical.  They felt at home in the worship space and we felt at home with the liturgy they used.

Last evening was three years later to the day in a journey that began in ashes and ended in celebration of an elegant and functional space for a faith community to live out their call to service.

When I arrived, the Nave was full.  There was space in a multipurpose room outfitted to allow us to participate fully in the service, though in a place far from the central worship space.  The feellings swirled.  There were some feelings at first, ones of which I am not proud, feelings that I was now relegated to a place far on the periphery of what had shared with my family a central place in my life.  I am grateful that my feelings moved away from feeling a loss of worth and value, to recognizing what the evening was about.  A community of people had taked a powerful hit and come out stronger that ever.  I got to touch their lives for a moment three years ago.  The night was about them and what had been and would be accomplished through them by the One we both serve.

Later in the evening there were some words of thanks that touched me deeply as Fr. Don acknowledged by name those people and faith communities who had supported them after the fire.

The contrast between the world in which I live now and the world in which I lived sixteen months ago is stark.  It was moving to be back in a liturgical setting with a large number of worshipers gathered, listening to and singing with a pipe organ, instrumentalists and choir producing powerful sounds, singing loudly in the midst of the congregation.  The moment was a poignant one for me as the forty years of ministry with its hopes and intentions and dreams broke into my awareness.  Current circumstances in my life and the needs of the congregation from which I retired have converged to provide a clear separation from my former life in the ministry.

What settled in my mind and heart last night is that my goal has been to impact those I served in a positive way as our lives intersected for a time. Whether or not it is remembered is quite secondary.  My hope is that my ministry had a positive effect on most of those I served in the three parishes and the high school these last four decades.

Now my goal is to make a difference for good in the life of someone I love deeply, even though I don’t always show that love as clearly as I should.  So that I could attend St. David’s new building dedication last night I arranged for a person from Home Instead an agency that provides people trained to do Companion Care.  It will cost between $60 and $70 for that care for Mary Ann, but I felt I needed to be there for my own sake and to provide a formal presence for my former parish. Needless to say, it is not feasible to use agency care very often.  I am grateful to have an income at all in this economy, but a fixed income does demand care in how and when that income is used.

Mary Ann has been up for most of the day today.  Last night did not start out too well, but after a while, she settled and slept soundly.  She has had a reasonably good day.  She ate with only occasional help needed.  She napped in the morning for a couple of hours, but has been awake and sitting up most of the day.  There were two Volunteers here at different times.

She went to bed around 7pm (less than an hour from this writing), and she is awake now watching her beloved NCIS repeat episodes.  It would be a wonderful experience to have a sleep-filled night tonight.  Time will reveal whether or not that comes to be.

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Logic sometimes seems to be completely useless in trying to figure out what to do.  In my last post, I was pleased with myself for keeping Mary Ann moving during the day to assure that she would sleep well.  In that post I reported that the hallucinations had diminished and she seemed to be down for the night.  So much for that observation.

After I finished that post, she started moving around.  The animals were back.  She was restless and we battled the animals for a couple of hours.  The next day was not much better.  There was a Volunteer in the morning who read to her.  I needed that break.  I headed up to the lake, listened to music and checked for wildlife.  As soon as I got back the usual issues that emerge when neither of us have gotten enough rest kept us at odds for much of the day.  Last night included some restlessness, but we both got a decent amount of sleep.

Today has gone reasonably well.  It is the day exactly forty years ago that I was Ordained, the day I became a Pastor.  We got out to a late lunch and splurged a bit, at least as much as can be done at an Applebee’s.  Our town has far too many restaurants, but few that are elegant and expensive (almost none).

There was a Volunteer tonight with Mary Ann.  I used the time to head up to my favorite spot nearby to watch the sunset and the wildlife.  A momma turkey and five young’uns provided some entertainment.  A doe settled down for some cud chewing about 200 feet way.  She seemed to enjoy the organ and choral music on a John Leavitt CD as it drifted out of the open window of the van.  She got up and left when the CD was done.  She has good taste in music.

There has been some nostalgia, maybe a bit of melancholy today.  The contrast between my life now and my life a couple of years ago is pretty dramatic.  During the years of ministry, most of my time (at least 60-70 hours a week) was spent connecting with other people face to face or via email.  Even when I was at home with Mary Ann, most of the time I wasn’t responding to her needs, I was at the computer interacting with people.

Because of the nature of my profession, there was lots of opportunity for being a part of people’s lives with the goal of making some sort of difference for good.  Whether I accomplished that or not is another matter.  That determination lies in the judgment of others.  All of that ceased completely at the end of the day on June 30, 2008.

I am grateful to have lifted from my shoulders the load of responsibility that goes with the role of Senior Pastor of a fairly large and very active congregation with hundreds of people serving as Volunteers as well as a substantial (and very capable) paid Staff.  I felt responsible to at least try to consistently do good work.  It was hard work.  As is always the case, the hard work is what produced the most meaningful accomplishments.  Gratefully, the central commodity we deliver is forgiveness.  It is a good thing, since I certainly needed lots of it for the things I did not get done or did not do well.

Today, it settled in me a little more deeply that that part of my life is over.  I found myself wanting to connect a bit with folks I have served over the years.  While my ministry has not been about me, but the One I follow, I would be lying if I claimed utter selflessness.

Today, I also recalled the most magnificent celebration I could have imagined when the congregation gathered for a retirement party a few weeks over a year ago.  What a party!  There was a sea of almost 500 people spread out in that room.  There was great food, great coffee, great ice cream, spectacular decorations, thoughtful gifts, and kind words that were way beyond anything I deserved (that’s not humility but honesty).  I will never forget that day.  No matter how bittersweet the day was today, I do not feel underappreciated.

Mary Ann is now in bed and on the monitor appears to be settled.  I will not predict how the night will go.  There was no napping today.  Logic would suggest that she would sleep.  Logic is irrelevant.  It will be what it will be. Actually, she has just had a trip to the commode and is now (seeing her on the monitor) moving about as if she is seeing things.

Tomorrow is a routine (three times a year) trip to the University of Kansas Department of Neurology’s Parkinson’s Center (Movement Disorders).  Hopefully Dr. Pahwa will have a suggestion for improving Mary Ann’ ability to rest at night with fewer troublesome hallucinations.

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