With my retirement date dead ahead, I find myself waxing nostalgic. Until that BIG day when I hang up my robe and stole, my weekly posts will highlight those who have made my race worth running and a few of my God-Moments as well.
Canandaigua, New York
July 1985 – September 1988
Six months as the Sunday pastor at two small Upstate New York villages carried little risk. Turning my back on a successful career in industry, accepting a part-time position as a youth pastor and enrolling in seminary was a huge leap of faith, especially with two small kids and a stay-at-home Mom depending upon me for food and shelter. Only ONCE, however, did I question my own sanity.
Canandaigua was a large church with a sizable congregation. Dave was an experienced Reverend and an excellent preacher. My job on Sunday morning was to entertain the kids during the Children’s Time and, on occasion, take a turn in the pulpit. With the size of the congregation, Dave’s talent and my utter lack of knowledge of things Biblical or theological, I lived in fear of my debut. About a month into my tenure, however, the dreaded moment arrived. Pastor Dave gave the order, “John, you’re up this week.”
I cannot remember how many drafts I wrote of that sermon. I also do not recall the topic or what I said about it. All I know is that on Sunday morning, I mounted the pulpit and with my pulse racing at nearly the speed of sound, preached the worst sermon….EVER! It was D.O.A. The people, although polite, stared at me like cows staring at a post.
After singing the final hymn, Pastor Dave gave the benediction, after which I fled to the solitude and safety of my office. I sat frozen and nearly lifeless in my chair as if I had been immobilized by a stun gun. As the noise of exiting congregants subsided, I began to develop a strategy to reverse course. After all, when the horse is dead, dismount!
Dave disturbed the peace of my pity-party. Before I could announce my resignation, he said kindly, “John, you know and I know that your preaching needs some work, but what do you think everybody is thinking about as they drive home?”
“They are probably thinking about my lousy sermon. It sucked.” I replied.
“No,” he countered, “they are thinking about what’s for lunch.”
Then, Dave settled me down gently. He said, “Just to be clear, John, perfection is not a requirement for ordination. There was only one Jesus and you are and never will be him. Just lead with your heart and all will be well.”
Dave was right. I am definitely not Jesus! I would not even have made the cut to be one of his chosen 12. I have preached many clunkers that crash landed. I have made more mistakes than I care to remember and hurt too many people that I love in the process. There have also been times when ME got in the way of GOD. I have regularly lifted my eyes to heavens and begged, “Forgive me, God, because I don’t know what I am doing and I hate what I have done.”
And yet, despite proprietary insight into my beleaguered humanity, I have tried my best to “lead with my heart.” To me, and maybe to God, that is all that really matters, and not only for a man of the cloth.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, Massachusetts