Update from the field: it turns out I’m not nearly as good a fishing guide as Jesus was. According to John 21, the disciples experienced Jesus’ risen presence when, after a night of unproductive fishing, they suddenly hauled in 153 keepers. Compare this to our men’s fishing trip in June, when we pulled up a grand total of three fish worth eating. Or the senior high canoe trip in July, when we caught just one good fish (but it was a good one) and a bunch slimy northerns. So much for serving others as Christ served!

By contrast, it turns out that I’m not such a bad Moses. Moses, as you may recall, was a terrible navigator (seriously, 40 years to go less than 300 miles). Most of the time, I kept us pointed pretty much in the right direction, but when it came time to find a campsite, I often felt like we might need some manna before we would make it to the land of tents and campfires. And let’s not even start on the trouble I had when I would try to navigate and fish at the same time.

So there I would sit, more often than not in the middle of the canoe, trying not to feel guilty for not pulling my weight. Of course, being who I am, I feel guilty any time I’m not simultaneously propelling the canoe, steering, and catching dinner along the way. Not that our senior high youth needed all that help. They were such a low-maintenance group, they helped me just focus on learning as much as I could about how our canoe trips work.

I keep learning about our life in this church, and I feel like the learning curve just keeps steepening. On the first Sunday of summer, I learned the hard way that the sound system doesn’t always get turned on before worship. Much more recently, I’ve accidentally locked the Wednesday morning Bible study group out of the building. There’s no guilt in either of these events for the people who stepped away from their “duties”; these moments just belong to the process of my learning who normally does what around here. In a church our size, the duties aren’t always clear, even to the pastor.

This process reminds me of a conversation I had with the presbytery’s Committee on Ministry (COM) in February, before I candidated here. In my Personal Information Form, I stated that I wanted to serve “a relatively small-scale, caring church.” I meant this in contrast to some churches that focus primarily on programs, social status, or numerical growth. I wanted a church small enough for people to know and care about each other, where we could pay attention to the “basics” of being church together.

After I explained my choice of words to the COM, one committee member turned and said to me, “You know that in our presbytery, Hope’s a big church, right?” He was right, especially when it comes to numbers. We’re larger than the average church in the Presbytery of Northern Waters (PNW), with 249 members on our rolls. The PNW has 7,578 members in 61 congregations, for an average of 124 members per church. In fact, we’re even larger than the average church in the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): 214 members. So, next time we talk about being “too small” for something, we can think about those numbers.

However, we do have fewer people in attendance at worship than the denominational average: the average is 114, while we have 81 attendees per Sunday. On average, 52% of Presbyterians attend church on a given Sunday, while only 33% of Hope’s members are here. Is this a symptom of the transition process we’ve been going through in the past couple of years? Is it a symptom of something missing in our worship life? Or is it just a sign of the time and place in which we live, where we can blame both summer and winter for dragging down our numbers? (Those of you who get the newsletter but haven’t attended more than 17 Sundays in the past 12 months, you could let us know the answers.)

People who pay attention to these things usually suggest paying more attention to worship attendance than to the number of people on the membership rolls. Because churches are usually reluctant to remove people from official membership, the number of people who actually show up regularly is a better predictor of the church’s activity and dynamics. In our case, the attendance count may give the impression that we’re not as big a church as (we say) we are. However, we’re definitely large enough to be very busy. Such an active church gives me that much more to learn and make sense of.

To add to the steep learning curve, there’s always more I don’t know. During my transition into ministry here, we’re also transitioning new people into new roles. Paj Falkowski and Marcy Remington have taken over as our youth and Christian education coordinators. Less visibly, several committee members have stepped down, and now it’s time to fill their shoes with new people. I wholeheartedly support the transitions people have had the courage to make (I really do), but it was just a little bit sneaky to save all these changes for the arrival of your valiant new pastor! That, or it was wise to lean on new stability in the pastoral role – I can’t say we’re leaning on my leadership yet, because I still have way too much to learn.

The hardest thing to learn, so probably the most important thing for me to learn, is that being pastor doesn’t mean knowing all the answers. This church is wiser and more able than I or any pastor can be. Especially during this learning process, it’s hard on my pride to know that I’ll never have all the answers. Really, that’s just too bad. This is not my church about which to know everything, it’s our church in which to live together. It’s not our church to make for ourselves, it’s Christ’s church to lead into the realm of heaven, and Christ is doing more among us than I or anyone will ever truly know.

In Christ’s peace,