|The Glenburn Community Church|
I resented having to be in church yesterday. And yes, I mean the beloved congregation that I consider myself extraordinarily blessed to serve as pastor. I didn’t want to be there.
Yesterday, in West Union, Ohio at 1:00 p.m. EST (roughly fifteen minutes after our Sunday morning Bible study convened out here in Glenburn, California), my Uncle Harmon Dryden officiated the funeral of my Uncle Bruce (Wm. Bruce Gulley, about whom I’ve recently written: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2013/11/wm-bruce-gulley-1921-2013.html). I wasn’t there. I was at The Glenburn Community Church.
The obstacles preventing me from receiving permission to fly to Ohio for my uncle’s funeral are several and varied, and mostly stupid and galling. The obstacle preventing me from going AWOL (Absent With-Out Leave) is simpler. Early in my ministry I came to understand the importance of constituted authority, and I believe it applies in even a one-congregation denomination (as the State of California defines GCC). As much as I may joke that “it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission,” simply absenting myself from my duties as the solo pastor was not an option I allowed myself.
Who would deny their pastor permission to attend the funeral of one of their closest relatives, even if it meant missing a Sunday, without time to arrange pulpit supply, or a pianist, or…well, any of the other things I do on Sundays? No one would deny that permission, so far as I can guess. Likewise, though, there is currently no one to give permission. Like all congregations and their leaders, ours is made up of always flawed and occasionally inattentive human beings. (As one of those responsible for the current level of dysfunction in our decision-making/permission-granting/policy-applying vacuum, I include myself, of course, in that description).
|A great place on Sunday mornings (except one, for me).|
So while neither of the individuals who may or may not currently be the chairperson of our board of trustees were available (we are apparently amidst a three-month leadership hiatus while the adjustment of our fiscal year—formerly ending September 30—aligns to the calendar year after December 31), and while the currently non-existent Pastor-Parish Relations Committee was equally non-available for comment (no one has been appointed to serve in that capacity for at least the past four years), and while the Elders are still in the developmental stage of this new phase of leadership structure, I prepared to steel myself in the midst of my own bereavement so that I could preach the sermon I had prepared long before my uncle’s illness became critical. It was the first sermon in our next expository series in Samuel and Kings, and it addressed "The Mis-Treatment of the Bereaved.” (I was specifically looking at Hannah’s encounters in I Samuel 1:1-8. I’ll send you the audio-file if you’d like.)
Several from our own congregation are in the midst of the early phases of their grief and mourning, having been bereaved through death and other significant losses. Present in our congregation yesterday, though, were also two sets of first-time visitors. Both had experienced the untimely loss of loved ones under uniquely difficult circumstances in the recent past. I had known of each situation, and prayed for them as their local family members provided updates. But it was my first time meeting all but one of them and, I believe, the first time any of them had attended church at Glenburn. They were in the right place at the right time for the right sermon for all the right reasons.
|You'd think he could be in two places at once.|
I was in the right place at the right time for the right sermon, too. And despite the fact that I was there for, in my humble estimation, all the wrong reasons, I took their presence, the presence of others in need among our regular attendees, and the response from each of them, and from even those I had no idea were in the midst of significant losses…well, I believe God verifiably validated my presence there, then, for them…and probably for me, too. But make no mistake about it: I didn’t want to be there.
I’m absolutely certain that God wanted me to be there. I see why. It was awesome to see the Holy Spirit touch people’s lives through a sermon I didn’t want to be there to preach. God used it, and people were blessed. But I’m still mad about it. Of course, this isn’t the first time God chose not to take my advice about how best to run my life (or who I should minister to and where). And even when I haven’t had such clear evidence that He knows best, I’ve gotten over it in the past. I’ll get over this, too.
So, I’m sorry I missed your funeral, Uncle Bruce. But unless I am entirely mistaken about your testimony of faith, I know you can feel free to take it up face-to-face with the One I blame for it. Or maybe you’ll just chalk it up to one more thing you got to teach your nephew, even when I thought the opportunity to learn from you had passed. Either way, thanks again.