By Joe LaGuardia
I am a minister in limbo, what Will Campbell might call a preacher without a pulpit. My wife said today that I am like one of those folks who wear a cross but don’t have a church.
It’s true: it has been over a week since I left my old church, Trinity Baptist; and I have one week until I start my new call at First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida.
Of course, some of this is hyperbole. I am still working on some loose ends at Trinity, specifically an internship program in which we are getting involved. And my first official day at First Baptist is on a Monday: May 16th, to be exact. They already have me listed as “senior pastor” on the bulletin, a sweet and encouraging sentiment.
But, as they say, perception is reality, and for these two weeks I really do feel lost without a place to call home.
I don’t know how other Christians can do it. You know, those Christians who do not have any real commitment to a body of believers, a place to go every week and share concerns or pray for others, get involved and eat at potlucks or play bingo. I know it sounds cheesy, but there is something about church that really makes me feel like I belong.
The other day, I joined a group of people from First Baptist for lunch in a local Italian restaurant. They go every Thursday, and I was thankful for the invite despite my “unemployed” status.
One of the first people to greet me, Ms. Becky, gave me a hug. I don’t know Becky that well and she doesn’t know me, but we both know what church is like. It’s like that hug, and I desperately needed it, especially since the previous night was Wednesday, a day I would have spent with my church family at Trinity.
The hug healed a home-sick soul.
Playing hooky from church and job has not been all bad, mind you. I’ve been able to endorse a political candidate in the local commissioner’s race in Rockdale County. I do not endorse candidates as a pastor and when the clock struck (close to) midnight on May 1st–my first day unemployed–I put out a status on social media declaring my support for a friend.
I also have been getting plenty of rest. I have been pastor for over six years, associate pastor for years before that, and we ministers rarely get a Sunday off. Ministry, furthermore, is not a job, but a lifestyle. You do not do ministry when you are called and ordained; you are a minister.
I have had the ability to just be since I left Trinity. I haven’t had to prepare for a Bible study, sermon, prayer group, small group, Sunday School class, prayer meeting, committee meeting, leadership meeting, or any other meeting for that matter, and it has been nice to sit around and read a book for pleasure.
Well, that too is not entirely true either, I guess. I have been reading up on the Holy Spirit–one book by Charles Spurgeon, a going-away gift from one of our associate pastors at Trinity–in order to prepare for my first sermon series at First Baptist Church.
That kind of reading has been sparse, however. If I’m not ready to write a sermon there is no use reading beforehand. Usually ideas that come this early depart just as quickly, so why bother?
Perhaps the greatest struggle in all of this is not the loss of pulpit or parishioner, or the lack of hugs for that matter. It has been the lack of routine.
My Christian life is a rhythm of “regular business hours,” Sunday routines, scheduled prayer and devotional times, and the like. Not going to “work” at a church means sleeping in (or, in my case, waking up) at odd hours, going to bed way too early, and mulling around with nothing much to do.
Just this morning my wife asked me why I was pacing in circles. I was literally pacing in circles, no kidding. When I came to, I told her I intended to do something, but I couldn’t remember what it was I set out to do. Now that’s a scary prospect. I never was able to recall the task, so I did a load of laundry for the fun of it.
I’m sure many of my friends who read this will say, “Hey, enjoy the time off–you’ll be busy when you start at your new call.” I have taken that advice, I assure you. We’ve gone to the beach nearly every (other) night, have eaten too much pizza, and have been trying to help my son learn to skimboard; but, being the guy in the room who wears a cross and doesn’t have a church is not me. I don’t recognize that guy.
For now, I’ll live with it, but Monday May 16th could not come fast enough. Lord, have mercy–and give me the patience of a pastor.