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The Call

Vol. E17, Number 14

updated: July 17, 2017

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Commentary: Upon hearing a pastor preach on his first day

By Annette Spence

<p>"I was overwhelmed with the hope exemplified in a young person who has other options but who chooses to stand up in the church."</p>

"I was overwhelmed with the hope exemplified in a young person who has other options but who chooses to stand up in the church."


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2017) -- I saw a young pastor preach on his first Sunday at his first church, and it made me cry.

No, the sermon wasn’t bad. It was pretty good, actually. He spoke about not letting other people define you, about not selling your God-given birthright. His message, from Genesis 25, made me think about some personal struggles in a new way.

He said he thought it was appropriate to begin with Genesis – for his first sermon, on his first day in ministry.

That was the second time I teared up.

The first time happened near the beginning of the worship service. The lay leader introduced the new pastor, and then invited the congregation to come lay hands on him in prayer.

The congregation was small, about 25 members in a sanctuary that holds much more. They were mostly white and elderly with white hair. They wasted no time in making their way to the altar where the pastor kneeled. His slender 27-year-old frame, black robe, dreadlocks and dark complexion made for a strikingly beautiful image as his congregation fanned around him.

I thought I came to the church that day simply to support a friend. But as I wrestled with the well of emotions that threatened to embarrass me, I suspected God had a much deeper experience in store.

This new pastor is the same age as my oldest son. In fact, they were friends for a while, rooming together at the Resurrection youth event. I’m at an age now where people that I remember as children are having their own children.

Some of these twentysomethings are doing very well. Some struggle with debt, addictions, disappointment. Some didn’t make it to this point, but were lost in car accidents or drug overdoses.

I listened to the Rev. Joshua Swanson preach in a place where many of these twentysomethings wouldn’t set foot – and I was overwhelmed with the hope exemplified in a young person who has other options but who chooses to stand up in the church.

And about that church …

Sometimes my job doesn’t show me the best side of the church we serve. There are people who want to split us up, who believe they are the only people qualified to interpret the Bible or discern where the Holy Spirit is working.

There are decisions made that appear so opposite of what Jesus would do -- but are so much a part of the church system and hierarchy -- that the only way to respond is keep quiet or run away.

There are chronic complainers, and people who only want to worship with people they agree with. There are pastors and staff who are worn out and sick of their jobs, but they don’t know what else to do so they’re just hanging on.

It’s so easy to focus on the disappointments and drift away from the joy and energy we’ve all experienced with our church family at some point.

So, I’ve witnessed a lot of “retirement recognitions” at annual conference. I’ve written about a lot of lifesaving ministries that have set me on fire for the Lord for another day. I’ve photographed many, many churches and dedicated volunteers and ceremonies.

But on July 2, I worshipped with a congregation on a pastor’s very first day, and that was a first for me. When I returned home later that day – after a long lunch with Pastor Swanson and his ideas for reaching new neighbors – I cried for the third time.

I think they were tears of gratitude.


 

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.