This is the first morning I awoke in my new community. I am in the process of moving from Portland Oregon to Eugene Oregon, to be pastor in a new congregation. I’m nervous, because for the last twenty years I’ve been the pastor of a homeless congregation with middle class people in it and now I am a pastor of a middle class congregation that will (hopefully) have homeless folks in it. Class shift is difficult and takes time. I hope this congregation will be patient with me as I make the transition.
Meanwhile, I am a minister in a new city. I am supposed to minister. But how do I start? I start this morning by walking.
I walked a mile around the apartment I am temporarily staying in. It is early Sunday morning, so the streets are pretty much empty of souls, just the way I like it. But it is a good time to begin ministering. How does one do this?
I need to see the city for what it is. This is not just a “little Portland” or a community that I can treat the same as my old one. I have to look carefully to see what the city really is. At times I will do this by comparison/contrast to the city I lived in for thirty years. But I also just need to look at it. Look at the butte (hey now, don’t misread), look at the traffic, look at the vegetation, look at the… ah, the trash. Some things don’t change.
If I am going to minister to a person, I need to hear clearly what they are telling me. Who are they, what are their passions, what are their concerns? As I walk, I am passing a woman with headphones walking the opposite way. She moves away from me and looks to the ground. Perhaps she isn’t feeling social. Or perhaps she is nervous about the older white guy walking opposite to her. I look away and give her the space she requires. Sometimes staying away is the best way of serving another.
In my walk I saw an empty bottle in the middle of the street. I picked it up, figuring I could place it in recycling when I get back to the apartment. Then I noticed an empty bag. Ah ha. So I picked up the bag and as I went on I slowly began filling it with trash. It was about half full when I came back to my residence and I dropped it in the trash, putting the recycling in its proper place. I have fed thousands of people before, but this morning my best act of love was picking up trash. That’s enough.
The most important thing is to remember that I am not here to change this city, to change this congregation or to change this or that person. I do not know what I can do. This new path is a blank slate to me and I cannot impose my ideals or hopes onto it. It is time for the path to lead me. I am not just going to fit in a place that someone else has dictated to me. But I am going to wait for God to show me my place. That will probably stir up some dust, because that is what happens when God acts. In the meantime, it is just me. I need to stand aside and observe the bold actions, the coping mechanisms, the open wounds and the ill-fitting bandages. And then, eventually, I pray and seek my place.