A Week in the Life of a Pastor for Youth, Young Adults, and Mission
from Pastor Davi
I appreciated Sharon’s reflection a couple of weeks ago about how her weeks often look, and I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my job, my role, and how my own weeks often look.
Because my role at First Congregational is less administrative than the Lead Pastor, my weeks are often more flexible (and perhaps consequently more varied!) than Sharon’s calendar. I’d like to share how I spent the last week or so as an attempt at a representative sample of my ministry here at First Congregational.
Yesterday, in addition to my weekly check-in meeting with Sharon, I got to meet with our pastors and our Faith Formation ministers to start planning Advent. We wrestled with some scriptures, we reflected about where the church is at and what the community is needing these days, and we began to put some words, themes, and thoughts together for our Advent season. I’m excited for what we began to dream up, and I’m excited to see what the Communications Board, the Faith Formation Board, our Minister of Music and many other people do with the next phase of the planning! It’s a gift to, sometimes, be at the first round of a growing conversation.
I was hoping to go to a Cross Country event in the late afternoon; several of our high school students are running cross country right now, and I was hoping to cheer them on. It got cancelled due to smoke, and so I got more caught up on my email than I was expecting. Also, one of our wonderful church folx stopped by to pick something up and I got to catch up with them for a while about their life, challenges, and where they’re being called next.
I take my ministry of “attending to what arises” very seriously. It’s harder now, even in this stage of pandemic life, but I love when folks stop by the church for a question, a coffee, or even an errand. Oftentimes those conversations become rich very quickly, and are in some ways the bedrock of my ministry rhythm- whatever interrupts me from my task, I try to assume that’s sacred, that’s ministry, that’s the work.
On Tuesday, I had a quick check-in with some NWYS staff and our standing Advisory Committee for The Ground Floor. Sometimes, those meetings are lengthy: lots to cover and wrestle with. It turned out that there wasn’t too much to cover Tuesday, so we checked in briefly, chatted about a list of action items of collaborations and questions, and got back to it!
Tuesday also had an unusual blessing for me: I got to go talk to a seminar class at Western Washington University. Their professor invited me to talk about my job, and to talk about my experience of spirituality in general and Christianity in particular. I tried not to talk too much at the beginning of the class, so we were able to devote most of our time to a bunch of really wise, kind, authentic questions from those young people. Afterwards I got to hang out with a few of them and hear more about what drew these young folks from different backgrounds and areas of study to want to dig more into conversations about spirituality. Whenever I get to talk with students, that’s a good day at my job for me.
When I got back down the hill from campus I spoke with our Leadership Team (pastors, moderators, clerk, treasurer and sometimes a MAC.) We meet a couple of times a month to craft an agenda for Council, to see how things are going in the church generally and to do (hopefully) big picture imagining about our next graceful steps as a congregation. It’s a sweet and thoughtful group. The meetings are often wrestling with challenging questions: finances, and priorities, and church conflict. But it’s lovely to have the generous time and wisdom from these folks working on it.
On my way home, I had a beer scheduled with a member I hadn’t seen in a while. So good to catch up with them, to hear what’s hard, to hear what’s life-giving. These “one on one” meetings are also a core part of my work. Often, I schedule with folks who reach out to me for a conversation or about a particular question. Sometimes I also just reach out to folks who are on my heart, to folks other members name to me, or people who reach out about unrelated stuff. It’s conversations about what’s deep: grief and hope, faith and curiosity, but it’s also woven together with what we’re watching and what we’re longing for, that weird dream they had and what’s beautiful and challenging about their kids these days. It’s the best, and if you’ve made it this far, it’s very likely that you’re due to have a coffee or a beer with me. (Or a walk or an ice cream or a bocce game or take your pick…)
-Monday was a wide-open day, shockingly rare. I had to look at my calendar two or three times to confirm it. And predictably, it became very full.
Now, sometimes I complain about this, and I would have complained if I had over-filled it with tasks that were coming out of my own anxiety or out of other people’s expectations of me. But I feel like Monday the Spirit took the gift of my empty calendar and gave me some very obvious, very gracious opportunities to say yes.
When I came in, I had an email that needed a callback, and had a rich conversation there. I called a friend after to check in, and when I hung up that call my phone rang almost immediately. It was a kind invitation from a church member who I haven’t touched base with from a while. They were needing someone to come be an extra presence while they did an act of kindness with a stranger. It was lovely, it was sweet, it was mundane, and it gave me a chance to catch up with that church person.
In the midst of that, I got a second invitation, from another church person who had to do something hard and sad later that afternoon. The Spirit is gracious, and that day I got to go accompany that person too.
One of my favorite things about having a pastor is that I can call my pastor in really any situation, especially situations that are otherwise hard to describe, contain, or label. What a gift to be a presence in those situations, and to watch how God works in the midst of them.
After that I went back to the office, and failed to do anything useful for about ninety minutes. I’d say this is also part of the rhythm of my job. I think I had a good snack, though, so that’s something.
Sundays are big days for me. Ostensibly they’re big because of worship, and that’s certainly a big part of my day. It’s where my moments of preparation come together, it’s where most people that I interact with over the course of a week see and hear and interact with me! But the moments before and after also precious. Because so much of my ministry depends on the relationship-building, supportive presence and gracious questions that fill those casual moments, and because I have the most opportunity for those when so many folx are in the building, I’m trying to be very prayerful about what those moments look like.
Sundays are also a day when I like to know what’s up, to be fairly caught up on my email and have a sense of what’s up at church. Consequently, whether or not I’m preaching, I’m usually at the building pretty early.
Sundays after worship are also my customary youth group time, and as previously mentioned, any day I get to spend time with students is a good day. This past Sunday was unusual in that we didn’t particularly reach for a theological grounding- instead we learned to make balloon animals to prep for Trunk or Treat. We also shared highs and lows, a sweet and sacred custom of hearing about what is important for each other.
This past Saturday was an unusual one. Usually I’m off work, but that day I got to attend the Membership Board’s workshop on Welcome. I had helped plan it, a tiny bit, but mostly I got to just sit and be a participant. It’s lovely to attend church events like this, in part because it’s nice to be a supportive presence, but it’s also a lovely way of learning more about church folks, often many people at once. Who shows up? What do they do there? What are the questions that arise that I wasn’t expecting? Any time church folks gather is an opportunity for me to learn more about my ministry context, and that is always a gift.
After the workshop I was doing some emails and the like in my office when I got a call out of the blue from an old Baptist colleague. We talked theology, we talked friends in common, and we talked about how and whether she might update her old brochure about homosexuality and Christianity for these days. I can’t quite explain what a grace these kinds of connections are. I took my cellphone to the empty sanctuary and walked around the table while we talked, confident that this curious conversation was definitely part of my ministry, part of my call.
In the afternoon, I got to drive out to the county for a Church Camp reunion. First Congregational folks, folks from other UCC churches, and some really awesome pigs, cows, and miniature donkeys. What’s not to love? In a social setting like that one, I’m often enjoying myself, but I’m also trying to catch up with families I haven’t heard from in a while. Sometimes I’ll try to go deep with a family or two, and sometimes I’ll try to talk briefly with a bunch of folks. I don’t know that one of these strategies is better, but those settings can be really fun ones to pastor in.
-I took Thursday and Friday off; Friday is one of my usual days off, and I took Thursday off in preparation for working Saturday.
That’s about a week! Also in there, I wrote most of a sermon for my visit to First Congregational Church of Bellevue coming up, prepared for and took notes from some of the various events, did some other visits by phone, sent some prayers by text, and did a fair bit of background reading. (I’ve now got a rhythm that allows me to do at least a couple hours of reading for my job each week: sometimes that’s very specific about an upcoming sermon text or youth group conversation, sometimes that’s general theology, history, or politics, and sometimes that’s a relevant novel- last week I read the upcoming book club novel and I’m looking forward to discussing it!) My style works best to fit these things in among the others, but it also means I need to avoid scheduling myself too tightly.
I’m continuing to grow and change as a pastor, and I hope all of us are continuing to grow and change in our own ministries, paid or otherwise! Please do feel free to ask me questions, wonder about what I missed, and share anything that surprised you about this week. (But you should know that I will very likely try to parlay your question into an opportunity to have coffee or a beer, and to hear a bit more of your story, and how it is dancing with the Story we share.)