About 35 years ago, my wife, our two children and I left Kenya after working there for a couple of years. It wasn’t a planned or happy departure and we were struggling in many ways when we arrived back in Canada in January. Among our basic requirements were a job and a place to stay–we could only live with family for so long
Eventually, with the help of some friends and mentors, I was called to serve as pastor of four small congregations who had been through some painful times of their own. They had need of a pastor and were willing to supply a salary and a big old parsonage. We moved in and I began work. We spend almost 10 years there, years that saw both our family and the church grow stronger. Our third child was born there. Both my wife and I entered and completed doctoral programs. The churches came out of their slump and grew in numbers and faith.
When we left, I think both sides had benefitted from that ministry. I went on to other ministry, including more pastoral ministry, teaching part-time at a nearby seminary, and several more trips to Kenya of varying lengths. We always lived in the same area no matter what I was doing, except for the extended stays in Kenya so I was always in contact with the churches–we would run into each other in town; I was on call for pastoral emergencies when the pastor was away and spoke now and then at special events.
Recently, their pastor got married, resigned and moved away and the congregations were suddenly without a pastor. A lot had changed since I left 25 years ago. Numbers were down, the congregation was aging, the church buildings were showing signs of severe age–the “newest” building is over a hundred years old. With the numbers being down, giving was down and the churches discovered that they really couldn’t afford full-time ministry any more. If they were going to continue, they would need to down-size their ministry and maybe even sell their parsonage.
The pastor who was leaving passed my name along to the church leadership as someone who could help them design part-time ministry. I have been doing part time pastoral ministry since the early 1990s and had even written a handbook to help congregations make the transition from full-time to part-time. Since I knew a lot of the leadership, I was quite willing to volunteer my time to help them with their transition.
I was surprised at the meeting to discuss part-time ministry–they didn’t so much want to pick my brains about how to set up part-time ministry as much as they wanted to know if I would be their part-time pastor. They were willing to change their time of worship to accommodate the other part-time position I was beginning and didn’t much care how the eventual ministry looked if I would be willing to accept a call to their congregations.
So, almost exactly 35 years after I began there the first time, I again stepped in the pulpit as their pastor. A lot has changed for both of us. While there are some familiar faces, there are also some who are conspicuously absent. There are a few new faces, but not all that many. All of us are showing the signs of the passing 35 years. I used to hop onto the platform in one of the buildings, ignoring the steps–now, the steps are a necessity and a railing would be even nicer.
But I am there–recycling even works in the church. I don’t know where God is going to lead us as we serve together. I don’t know how long we will be together. In fact the list of things I don’t know keeps getting longer and longer. But I do know that for now, God has brought us back together and obviously has some plans for us.
Did I expect to be back when I left there 26 years ago? No–but then, one of the wonders of following God’s leading is that we really don’t know where things will go. But if we follow in faith, it is always an interesting trip.
May the peace of God be with you.