Saturday was a painful and beautiful day for so many persons in Girdwood. It was the day of the memorial service for a friend, a father, a husband, a coworker who was loved by the community. That evening we had about 350 people crammed into our church…people down the hallway, people just inside the door, people on the floor. There were A LOT of people there. And we remembered our friend. I led this service.
Then we made our way to the Challenge Alaska building where there was a celebration of life, a party, a bonfire, lots of food, a show of community.
While at the celebration I had a number of people approach me and tell me what a good job I did in helping the community deal with this death. And, it wasn’t just a thank you for this particular loss but for all the other times I’ve been there for the community during the various tragedies that have come upon us over these last 12 years.
While I know that clergy love pats on the back for our work (and I’m no exception), I felt awkward in the face of the affirmation. I nodded my head and said that it all worked well and that it was my privilege to serve in this way. It’s nice to hear, but it’s not why I do it. It’s not why I serve.
But it made think. Really, in terms of my ministry in Girdwood, my involvement with the Fire Department and with persons in the face of tragedy has been something I’m most proud of. I think I have done this part of “community pastoring” well. Looking back 20 years I would never have guessed that this aspect of ministry would be among the most rewarding at this time. It’s not fun. But I think it’s been a God-thing, how I entered into pain and tragedy, providing a pastoral presence, re-presenting Christ. It is where I’ve felt most pastoral and has dramatically shaped my understanding of how I see myself as a pastor.
Well, what were other “hits” or “successes?” What were the things I’ve done well that I can “hang my hat on” and know that I “fought the good fight”? Or, perhaps more challenging, what have been my “misses” over 12 years? Where did I fail? Where could I have done better? What do I regret?
Here’s my list:
1) Emergency Pastoral Care — As stated above, this is one way I truly feel I’ve been used by Christ in this setting. A big “thank you” to the Fire Department for welcoming me into their community of first responders so I could serve the larger community.
2) “Friday Night Live” — This is our Friday night youth ministry. I worked pretty hard on youth ministry over the years and never could seem to get traction. But we did get some here within the last two years and the hope is that the high school kids will want to keep it up.
3) Technology/Web — Video in worship. Working web page. Facebook presence. Even this blog. I’ve always been a sucker for images and creativity in worship and I’ve tried to strike a balance while here.
4) Community Involvement — I have loved this community and have been loved by it. I have been involved with tons of stuff and am thankful for the various groups I have been able to work with.
5) Missional Theology — This has evolved over my time, from an understanding that we “can’t be Anchorage Chapel because we’re Girdwood Chapel” to our mission statement of “Love God, Love others, Change the world.” I’ve worked hard to have the church see itself as a part of the larger community and to be a body that exists for the people in the world.
6) Advance Special Relationships — We’ve had a lot of support from outside churches. While my “fire” for this has diminished over the last few years, I spent a lot of time visiting churches in Indiana and Mississippi and formed wonderful friendships along the way. Those relationships have been fruitful in many ways.
7) The New Church Building — I was chief cheerleader. It took five years longer than expected. But it’s built and I’m happy with that.
8) Preaching — My preaching has gotten better, stronger, more biblical while here. Granted, they are not all “winners” but I think I’ve had some growth in this area.
1) Discipleship Program — Lots of swings and misses here. Never got into a groove. We offered lots of classes over the years but couldn’t find any that really kept going. I’m not sure what I did wrong but I’d like to avoid doing wrong again.
2) Delegation/Apprenticeship — I did too much at times without having anyone in place to continue the class or project when I wasn’t involved. I admit to being nearly tireless on issues that I care about and probably being more of a control-freak than is helpful. That’s something that will need to change.
3) Senior High Youth Ministry — I leave here with three kids in high school right now. One of my serious laments is that we’ve never really had a youth group for them. It’s so hard to keep Sr. High kids involved when they are in Anchorage for so much of the week. It’s been a struggle. My hope is that the Friday Night Live (mentioned above) can be a way to keep contact.
4) Administration — To be fair, I had the added burden of not really having a church office for the first 10 years I was here. But, to be fair, I tend to be more of “big picture” person and have relied on others to keep the organization running as smoothly as it has. And while I might not claim administration as one of my gifts, I have been able to help lead the church through a big transition. That counts for something, right? Right?
5) The New Church Building — Speaking of a big transition…. There’s several mistakes here. We started building too soon under pressure from outside work teams and under the stress of meeting in a tiny, tiny one-room church. We should have waited a couple more years to get funds on hand. Also, we built a more expensive design than we should have. It’s beautiful and it’s a great design. But if we could have saved a couple hundred thousand dollars, it would have been worth it. One final issue here is the “bend” in the building. We purposely put a “bend” in the Narthex to pull the church down a property line and save land for parking. The Narthex and Library look cool but they have lots of angles because of it. It added cost. It added confusion. It’s pretty. But we could have saved money and headache by sacrificing that property.
6) Self-Care — We started construction in 2005. By 2007 I was feeling totally consumed by the building process. I came back from a long vacation revitalized and renewed. But it was a constant battle to keep myself (and the congregation) from having our ministry be all about the building.
7) Stewardship — We seemed to do very well for a while, but as the building process slowed down and the debt remained we really needed me to be tougher here. I could have done better.
So there you have it. I’m sure others could give me different feedback. I’m sure I can come up with excuses for each of the “misses.” But I’ll try to own the mistakes here. As Pastor, the buck stops with me. I’m not trying to be hard on myself at all. I’ve very proud of the ministry that’s occurred here over the last twelve years. I’m merely trying to reflect on my time here and, hopefully, be a better pastor going forward.
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