Many seasons

When I was a college student, I served a small congregation as a supply preacher for a year. I received a license from the Association to serve as a pastor even though I had not completed my education. In fact I had not yet even gone to seminary. I was mentored in the work by our Conference Minister. In addition to serving the church, I was a full-time student and also served as janitor of the office building where the conference office was located in trade for rent of an apartment in in that building. The worship bulletins for the church were run a mimeograph machine that belonged to the Conference Office. It didn’t take too much paper as the congregation was small. I learned some of the responsibility of developing liturgy on a regular basis. Because of the office schedule, I had access to the mimeograph machine only on Saturdays, so I’d prepare the bulletin and type the stencil with our manual typewriter during the week. The platen on the typewriter was too narrow to accept the stencil in the direction that it needed to be printed, so I’d cut the stencil with a razor blade and a ruler, type it and then carefully glue it back into one piece before running it on the machine. The mechanics of the process don’t matter to my story, but it is interesting to me how much easier the process is these days.

As a college student, I was not a last-minute person. I planned my life so that I would complete assignments before deadlines. I would become anxious if I felt I was falling behind in my work. For big events, such as Easter, I had the stencil typed as much as a week in advance. That meant that some weeks I was working on more than one service at the same time. It is a skill that is very helpful to me and that I continue to use to this day.

I am preparing for a three-month sabbatical this summer, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about worship for the church in the time that I will be gone. Our church will be using a combination of its own members and supply pastors from outside the church to lead worship during our absence. So I’ve returned to my practice of working ahead in the preparation of worship bulletins. I’ve got a file on the computer with the summer bulletins and each week I add bits of liturgy and other items to the bulletins. The hymns have been chosen for the entire summer, The preachers have been lined up, and some other work has been done. I have tree weeks of worship in August for which there are no bulletin notes entered yet, but I should have the rough draft of those bulletins completed within week.

In the meantime, life goes on at its regular pace. In our normal plan of work for the church, Thursday is the day that we polish the bulletin. I try to have the first draft of the bulletin completed by 9 am when our administrative colleague arrives to enter the announcements and other items into the document. The liturgy is complete, but the document needs to be finished, proofread and printed. By the end of the work day on Thursday we plan to have the bulletin ready to print. Actual printing is the first task on Friday morning, which allows for last minute changes if events in the congregation shift.

So part of my mind is thinking of the flow of the 4th Sunday of Easter, Shepherd Sunday, and part of my mind is thinking of the end of the season of Pentecost. In addition to the worship bulletins for August, I have an in-progress document on my computer that completes worship plans for the season of Pentecost. If I don’t have the general outline of worship through the season, which ends November 25, in place before I leave, the musicians and other staff members won’t have enough planning resources to be ready to begin September with the return of our choir and a full slate of programs for the church. That means a third track of thinking about worship.

The trick is to focus on one task at a time when I am actually working. I can’t be thinking about with words to use for the Call to Worship on August 19 while I am choosing the hymns for October 14. I can’t allow thinking about hymns for Thanksgiving Sunday to distract me from the mood of Shepherd Sunday.

On the other hand, I’m finding that working at several points in the worship pattern of the church in sequence is giving me a fresh perspective on the bigger picture of the flow of worship in the community. It has taken me decades to really gain the sense of living in a flow of worship as opposed to thinking about the process as a series of stand along events. When I was a student a worship service was like a paper I was preparing. I would plan the service and when we had completed our worship I would move on to the process of planning the next one.

These days I am able to see how the cycle flows and returns to familiar themes. We always read Psalm 23 on the fourth Sunday of Easter. Every year there is the opportunity to preach a sermon on the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Every year there is an invitation to reflect on the valley of the shadow of death where I shall fear no evil for Thou art with me. I grew up in sheep country, but I don’t have enough stories about sheep for a new one each year.

The congregation I serve, like all other congregations, is constantly changing. People come and go. Families are formed and reconfigured. Relationships change. Leaders go through transitions. The dynamics of the wider society are different now than was the case in former years.

Like the years, our lives have seasons. Working with several seasons at once reminds me that they are all connected. It is a blessing to be so reminded.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!