The congregation I served in Detroit wasn’t my first church, but it was the first church I served on a full-time basis. I had just completed seminary in Kansas City, and had been ordained by the Eastern Association of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ. As I moved to The Motor City, six years of half-time, student pastoral work were concluded. For the first time, I was able to focus all of my attention on serving my congregation and the community in which it had its life and ministry.
One of the early tasks of a new pastorate is getting to know the community surrounding the church. Much as I did here in Methuen almost four years ago, I took every opportunity I could to meet neighboring pastors, leaders of community organizations, and city and school officials (though that process went MUCH more easily in Methuen than it did in Detroit!). One of the people I met was the pastor of the nearby Presbyterian congregation, himself a newly ordained, recent seminary graduate, too. Like me, he was a newcomer to Michigan and the upper Midwest.
As we talked, he had an interesting approach to getting to know me. He asked, “What have been the three most significant transitional moments in your life?” I found the question fascinating. As I explored my answer with him, I was surprised by how easily I boiled my whole life (then, fewer than 30 years!) down to three moments of transition. But I did. And discerning those transitions was enlightening to me, giving me new insight into who I had become, and who I hoped to be and become as I reestablished myself in a new place, in a new stage of my life and career.
Since then I’ve tried to observe the major transitions of life as they came along. It’s not always easy! Sometimes we’re aware of a new opportunity before us, of a moment that is pregnant with possibilities and the potential for something new and exciting. But other times, sadly most of the time, we’re so caught up in the process of getting through the current challenge, the present trauma, or simply meeting today’s tasks and responsibilities, that we aren’t quite able to see the possibilities for a transition into something new that is right before us. I wonder sometimes what opportunities I might have missed because I was too busy being caught up with the talks of the present moment.
The season of Lent comprises the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter (not counting Sundays). It is a time for examining our lives in the light of Christ’s teachings. We look deep within to discern how we are doing as a people of faith. We strive to see the ways we are true to God’s call and to understand the ways we fall short. A more traditional way of saying that is, Lent invites us to consider our whole lives, confess our sins before God, and to repent — that is, seek a new way of living and being in the world. It occurs to me that such considerations afford us an opportunity for intentional transition. It is a chance to let go of old behaviors, habits, or attitudes. It’s a moment for setting new goals, move in a different direction, and to live into a new way of being. It’s a chance to see ourselves in a different light, and to live accordingly.
Almost 30 years after that conversation with my Detroit colleague, I’m still numbering the moments of significant transition in my life. Perhaps this season of Lent will be the springboard to a new transition for me, or for others of us here at First Church. I truly believe, whenever we consider our lives in the light of Christ’s teachings and dedicate ourselves anew to walking in the ways of Jesus, we will always meet the potential for new possibilities for life and service in Christ’s name. The question is, will we do that intentionally?
See you in church…