I am about three weeks into my new call, in a land and to people who are still pretty unfamiliar to me. I just got an email from my former colleague asking me for the names of people who worked with me on an adult faith formation vision process. That simple email reminded me of how well I had gotten to know my congregation, at least in some ways. Then of course I thought again about the geography that I left: the landscape of my home community and state. Even the places I had never been, I considered that I knew well.
Here I have preached two sermons, have played with the children at Vacation Bible School. I have had dinner at a couple of people's houses. I have co-led a pre-school worship service. I have found some grocery stores, and a local veterinarian for my dog. I have held one communion service at a local assisted living residence, and I thank God that it was pretty easy to find, and that the residents were hearty singers.
Often I feel disoriented. A friend counseled me that a lot of what I am doing I know how to do, which is correct. I tell myself that when I begin to meet the shut-ins (and find my way to their homes), when I do a few more of the familiar tasks, when a few more of the roads become well-known to me, I will find my sea legs.
On Sunday afternoon I was officially installed as pastor here. On Sunday morning I presided at the early service. On the way out, I greeted one woman, who said (I thought conspiratorially), "I'm new here."
I don't know what got into me, but I found myself saying, "I'm new too. Let's be new together."
I'm not sure that was an official line for a about-to-be-installed pastor to say. It didn't sound like the resident expert that I suspect some in my congregation hope that I will be. And yet I'm sticking with it, for now.
I just re-read a sentence from the classic "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind," by Shunryu Suzuki. I had read it long ago and forgotten most of it. But this sentence stuck out, 'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."
It is not simply expertise that a new pastor brings to a congregation. It is openness and a willingness to learn: stories and streets, geography and grace. It is that tension between expertise (the things I know how to do) and curiosity. I suspect that to be successful, a new pastor will bring a sort of Beginner's Mind to a congregation, a belief that there are a lot of possibilities and that we can uncover and discover them together. I'll be honest: this is part exhilarating, and also terrifying. It is like an invitation to go sky-diving (an invitation which I recently received, by the way).
Even so, I'll say it again, an invitation:
"Let's be new together."