I walked into church last Sunday and spotted Pastor Steve and his wife up near the podium. I immediately went up there to welcome them back after two weeks of subbing in the pulpit. I gave Karen a big hug and she responded by handing me a little post-in note with four dates on it. Recognizing the quizzical look on my face, she added, “These are the next dates we’ll be gone.”
My immediately thought was, “Oh great. That means I have to wear my suit again!”
Seriously, I consider it an honor and privilege to lead worship. And I take the commission to share the good news of the Gospel and the not-always good news of the Old Testament seriously. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in YOUR sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
I don’t preach. I am not qualified, although I have taken master level theology classes in the Synoptic Gospels, Old Testament History & Interpretation and Systemic Theology. I try to turn the liturgical readings into everyday examples and weave theology and real-life Christianity into a lesson we all can follow, including myself. I know I grow each time I lead worship.
The question is, how did I get into such a leadership role?
This week, I remembered a conversation I had with Dan Ring, then-pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Oregon, OH. During the transition from Illinois to Ohio — while the family was still in Illinois — I spent the week living in the parish rectory and commuting home for the weekend. With crazy schedules, Dan and I didn’t see a lot of each other, but one night after a late meeting, I noticed the light in the study was on so I popped my head in to say “Hi” and “Good night.” He motioned to me to come in.
“I need a break. I’m working on my homily and it’s just not coming together,” he said as I sat in the chair across from his desk. And we spent the next half hour just catching up.
Somewhere in that conversation, I said I couldn’t write a homily. He laughed and said, “Sure you could … and you would be good at it.”
He then explained a good homily isn’t about the texts. It’s about relating those words of Scripture to today, to today’s Christians, to today’s events. If you show the congregation HOW Scripture relates to them, they become interested in it.
“You do that with the newspaper. [I was associate publisher of the Catholic Chronicle in Toledo, OH, responsible for bringing the newspaper back to the diocese after a 38 year association linked with the dioceses of Cleveland and Youngstown. During those early days I spent countless hours visiting with the deaneries in the diocese, explaining the vision of the Chronicle.] In fact, you should get out to the parishes as well. Speak to the congregations.”
The diocese stretched from the Indiana state line to Vermilion and the Michigan state line to south of Lima and Mansfield, covering 8,222 square miles. I didn’t hit every one of the parishes, but found myself visiting many of the 150 parishes and/or their parish councils, “preaching” the benefits of a strong diocesan newspaper. I did a similar outreach when I was editor of the Catholic Standard in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
Dan was also a supporter of my continuing education. He would tell me, it will make your faith deeper and richer.
But I actually never stepped into the pulpit until pressed into service as an elder at Tyre Reformed Church in New York and now as an elder at West Fayette Presbyterian Church — all based on Dan’s premise, If you show the congregation HOW Scripture relates to them, they become interested in it.
I don’t know how successful I’ve been, but I do know my writing has always been down to earth. As I say in my blog intro, I’m just an ordinary guy walking along this journey called life. Father Says is a play on two facets of my complex life. My comments are always filtered through the lens of Judeo-Christian values and largely based on 40 years of marriage raising five children. My previous columns and editorials had that same flavor.
You may not find yourself on the single side of the pulpit, but you, too, can share our wonderful faith story. Don’t preach. Relate. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Invite others to search for themselves. Nurture them one-on-one and in small groups. Show your faith.
So, if you happen to be in the Finger Lakes area of New York Sept. 20, Dec. 27 or Jan. 3 and 10, I welcome you to join us at 9 a.m. at West Fayette Presbyterian Church, on Route 336 just east of Route 96A and a few miles south of Geneva and north of Sampson State Park. I invite you not to listen to the guy in the pulpit, but to enjoy the fellowship of the little church with the big heart.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.