Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three Years

There doesn't seem to be as much wide-spread common wisdom about the three-year mark of a pastorate as there is for earlier milestones. At least, I haven't heard much.

I've heard that after the first two years of learning them and loving them, respectively, the third year is when the pastor starts leading them. I think that I can look back and spot moments in which that has started to happen, moments where I've begun truly living into my prescribed role as spiritual guide for our governing board and committees. Administration is not my strong suit--or at least it's not something that greatly energizes me--so I'll take whatever I can get.

The only other thing I've heard about the three-year mark came from a colleague who observed that after three years, the tone changes: people start being more honest; less guarded in relation to you. I don't know what exactly she meant. I like to think that people have been pretty honest with me already about likes and dislikes about what I do and about what concerns them most about their own lives. So whatever shift this is that takes place, I don't know what it looks like. That's either because it still hasn't happened, or because such honesty has already been so woven into my time here that a single moment to which I can refer will not happen. I helped demolish the "honeymoon period" within the first six months, so such a sea change probably isn't going to register now.

There is a sense of accomplishment, I think, that has accompanied my journey toward three years. For one thing, I've completed one tour through the lectionary. From this point forward, I'll have seen all these texts before. Perhaps now I'll stray from it a little more often in order to keep things fresh. While planning for Advent, I did find myself gravitating back toward a few texts on which I've preached before, but with fresh eyes.

Secondly, I guess I have this notion stuck in my head that three years is somehow a "real" ministry. Three years is this mystical milestone for me where once you've made it to this mark, you've gotten past any opportunities for early exits, the play-nice "honeymoon" period and the "serious questioning of your call" period, and at this point all that's left is to dig in your heels and do what you can.

There has been one other thing that has accompanied my journey toward three years. As a farewell gift, one of my seminary field placements presented me with a Pastoral Record book, wherein I can record all my baptisms, weddings, funerals, sermons, and so on. I have to say that I've been utterly fascinated with this thing. Some of the categories one can record comes from a different set of cultural assumptions and thus will be left blank, but in terms of the most familiar ongoing acts of ministry, I've just been giddy about being able to write this stuff in this book, moreso to look back and read over each list. Behind each name is a story, a lesson learned, an experience that has helped me in some way and, I hope, has helped others.

But today, and really the past few weeks, I've looked over the pages in this book and have marveled at the fact that I've really preached three years' worth of sermons, officiated at three years' worth of special ceremonies. Have I really been out on my own doing this for this long? Have I really prepared a sermon almost every week for three years? How'd I end up being able to do that?

But three years ago today I started in my present position. It really doesn't seem like it's been that long. I don't have any plans to mark the day, but maybe an idea will present itself. I hope a couple ideas will present themselves, actually, because I'm planning on writing my sermon.