For the past four weeks I have been on the road preaching at different churches every Sunday. In January I traveled to Ada, Bowling Green and Hocking Hills. I am already booked through mid March for Ada, Lyons and Bowling Green again. Who knew how much fun this would be for me? And Chuck!
First of all we really enjoy the driving. Every place we have gone has been at least an hour drive and sometimes – like Sunday - we drove for an hour and 45 minutes to get to our destination. We are traveling on new roads for us and just enjoy the time together. And afterwards there is lunch - at a NEW RESTAURANT!
The preaching is always good for me – especially the preparation and just thinking about the text for the week. Of course, I look at old sermons and use ideas and illustrations from them, but I like the process of re writing and editing and most of all just pondering. And most especially I still get those moments that are epiphanies – sometimes an image, a word, an idea, a quote that freshens the whole thing for me and makes me excited to share the message.
But finally, there is the church experience and every different church is – of course – different. The first time we went to Ada there were (including us!) 10 people in worship. I followed their previous pastor who had been a Pentecostal minister who “trusted the spirit” to guide him in his preaching. The week before I came he informed the church this was his last Sunday because God had told him to move on. (Coincidentally, they had scheduled a meeting with him about his sermons) Anyway, they seemed really happy to have a sermon that is actually organized and prepared in advance. We went out to lunch afterward with half the congregation and really like them. I have been back to preach three more times and whenever we enter we feel welcome and loved. Chuck went back to Ada one day to help them with their annual Peanut Brittle fundraiser and looks forward to these Sundays a lot!
This past Sunday was totally unique as I preached at three little churches in Hocking Hills. There were six people at the first church, 11 at the second and 13 at the third. At two of the churches there was no piano player, so I volunteered to not only preach but to play the piano. Chuck loved meeting the people and always invites them to hug him rather than just shake hands. I am wanting to control this but really, everyone seemed to warm up to him. It was a whirlwind morning but satisfying and holy as I hear the earnest and faithful prayers of the Elders who are keeping a small church going.
Of course, people on the outside would look at these little churches and pronounce them “dying” but my experience of worship with them is that it is alive and warm. I don’t know how long they can keep it up – making peanut brittle is a tough way to pay your pastor. There is no way I would want pastor and lead a congregations like this. (I am happy to not have to worry about the budget, the building and the mission plan for the church. )
But for now it is a blessing and a different kind of call to be on the road to preach to these faithful communities.