Sunday, August 31, 2008

One Year Later

One year ago, (on August 29th, to be exact) I moved to Franklin Lakes, NJ, to begin my second appointment. Today is the one year anniversary of the official beginning of my appointment here. In some ways, I can't believe I've already been here a year - the months have gone by so quickly. In other ways, I feel like this has been a long year - the first year in a new appointment is full of so much learning, meeting people, familiarizing, transitioning - this year has been so full that it seems like I must have been here longer than a year already.

This is only my second appointment - my first year here has been much different than my first year in Oneida. The learning curve in a first appointment is huge. Here, I come with knowledge and experience, even if it isn't decades of ministry yet. But I'm also in a much different place and, in some ways, a much different congregation. I'm serving outside of my annual conference of membership, North Central New York, the area I grew up in and lived in for all of my life, outside of time at school. I went to seminary at Drew, but actually living in the community in Northern New Jersey is quite different from attending school on a somewhat secluded campus. Greater New Jersey is a different conference from NCNY in many ways. It is more diverse in membership and clergy membership, it covers much more urban areas, it is more 'politically active' in the denomination, etc. These are just a few surface differences. Of course, there are practical differences - I know most of the clergy and lay folks active in the conference in NCNY. In GNJ, I'm still trying to get to know the folks in my district, much less folks in the whole conference. These things take time.

My congregations are in many ways similar - roughly the same sanctuary architecture, almost identical congregation sizes, same difficulty in paying apportionments, same struggle reach young people, same issues of slow decline, wondering what has happened, thinking about days gone by when the Sunday School was packed with kids and you always had enough people to help with events.

But they're also very different. Bergen County is more affluent, more educated, more traveled, more urban-focused than Oneida. People work, from what I can tell, a crazy number of hours each week, added to commute times that are generally significantly higher than in CNY. One of my colleagues who works in congregational development looked at the demographics of the area for me, and his figures and comments confirmed it - people here are most likely to look for how a church fits into their schedule than anything else. Offering options, offering different times, shorter times, more time options - these are all important to a congregation in this area. This summer, we introduced an early morning communion service - and though it is still a small service, it is casual, and shorter, and I think we're meeting a real need with it. One of our focus areas this fall in that service will be rest and Sabbath. My goal will be to talk about rest and Sabbath without making people feel guilty that they don't take enough Sabbath!

I'm also different here too. The difference goes beyond even a first-appointment, second-appointment difference. I find myself, in many ways, back at square one when it comes to discerning God's call on my life. Obviously, I still feel called to the ministry of ordained elder! But for so many years, including most of my time in Oneida, going through the candidacy process and seeking ordination was the way I was answering God's call. Now, I'm ordained, and that part of answering my call is thankfully completed. But now what? I believe God is always calling us - and I'm struggling to discern God's purpose now, and how I respond to that. I'm struggling to balance what I want to do with what I think God might want me to do. What does ministry look like for me in the next 5 years, 10 years, 1 or 2 years? I feel like these are open-ended questions right now. I'm used to having a plan and answers, and I don't have many right now, and it is a position I'm not comfortable in. So, I'm discerning.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to more first with this congregation, like teaching my first class (here) of confirmands this fall. I'm enjoying the recent wave of baptisms - six this summer, I think. I'm excited to be working on the Lay Leadership Nominations Process and actually know who people are this year, and feeling like our team is really matching people and ministries in some creative ways. I'm excited about our fall worship focus, using themes from Bishop Schnase's Five Practices. I'm anxious to try and move forward together, try some new things together, and see where we end up.
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