Treasured colleagues

For all of my life, I have had projects that are on the side of the main focus of my life. I had many different part-time jobs while I was a student. Although my studies were my main focus, the need for income taught me to stretch my days and to be creative in the management of my time. I worked as a janitor and a machinery assembler, as a baker and a truck driver. I learned skills that, although not directly job requirements, have helped me in my regular work. A pastor needs to have certain janitorial skills. I have been known to say that Holy Week is 50% leading worship and 50% moving furniture. And the miles of driving truck pay off when we load trucks and trailers with firewood and head to our partners with a delivery.

In the early years of my career, I worked as a radio DJ, as a school bus driver, and at a few other odd jobs. I also volunteered for community and denominational committees and served on various boards. My professional life has always been a bit of a balancing act between my commitments to my family, my commitments to the church, and my commitments to the community. It has been a meaningful lifestyle and I am grateful for the many lessons learned in places other than the church that have helped me forge relationships with people within the church. There are a lot of things about being an effective pastor that are learned in places other than school.

Back in the 1990’s and 2000’s, I was a member of a team of educational consultants in the United Church of Christ. We were deployed from the national setting of our church to serve congregations and Conferences in what then were the six regions of the denomination. Our team was relatively small, ranging from 12 to 15 consultants. We met once or twice each year to coordinate our work, learn about new resources, and plan national events. I had just started this work when we lived in Idaho and was named a consultant for the Western Region. When we moved to South Dakota, I was recruited to serve as a West Central consultant and was deployed in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas. I served as a resource office to congregations and Conferences and did much of my work by email and phone, but did make physical visits and lead workshops in all of the Conferences I served.

That process of working with the other educational consultants formed deep relationships with the others who did this work. Around our meetings, we learned of each other’s families and work. We consulted when colleagues were considering major life decisions such as a change in jobs or new family configurations. We prayed for each other and maintained a strong email correspondence.

When the program was ended we continued our connections, meeting occasionally at General Synod matings of the United Church of Christ and mostly keeping our email group going. Over the years we have experienced the deaths of several of our colleagues and have participated in creating memorials to them. We have seen our colleagues through cancer treatment and heart attacks and joint replacement surgery. We have prayed for each other through the growing up and launching of our children and the deaths of our parents. Lately I recognize that I get a surge of tension when I see an email from the group because it often contains the news of deep grief. This week one of our colleagues, herself recently widowed, is traveling back to a church she once served for the funeral of a 22-year-old cancer victim. She baptized this person, led her youth group and traveled on several mission trips with her. She confirmed her and watched as she went off to college. In the scheme of things, we don’t expect to bury those who are so much younger than we, but here she is with a unique blend of pastoral concern and deep grief. We, her colleagues, pray with and for her. We write her notes, and we are a wordy bunch. Most of us are writers and all of us are impressed at the eloquence of our colleagues. Words make a difference to us and are deeply appreciated.

The majority of our team are now retired from the profession of ministry. We still have a role in our denomination as part of the institutional memory of the major themes of late 20th Century and early 21st Century faith formation ministries in our denomination. Not long ago the national office of our church was unable to find a report of a major educational study conducted in the early 1990’s. The word went out that they were looking for the report and most of the educational consultants had kept a copy. I had extra copies and was glad to send one on to the national office. We know that much of the work we did and the major projects in which we engaged are no longer relevant to the current configuration of the church, but we also know that our work was foundational for some of the ministries of the church today. In our own way we contributed to what we have together become.

I am grateful for the time when we shared at the heart of the church’s educational ministries. I learned some valuable skills that I use in my work today. A few weeks ago, our choir director asked me to write the narration for a Christmas cantata. I assured him that it was no problem and had a document ready for him to review in a couple of weeks. The actual work was done in a few hours at a time spread over two or three days. I learned this skill as a consultant when I had to come up with programming for Conference or national meetings at the drop of a hat while still doing my regular work.

Most valuable, however, have been the relationships. My colleagues have become valued friends and their prayers are deeply treasured. The church has never been about one place only. Our heritage lies in a faith that transcends space. From the letters of Paul to the emails of my colleagues I am grateful to belong to a worldwide church.

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!