The First Week
Or "baptism by fire."
When I was in seminary, it was traditional to hear letters written by recent graduates giving updates on their ministry endeavors. I recall more than one of these letters describing having to deal with crises within the first few weeks. It instilled within me a slight fear that mostly lurked in the background of my mind that this would be my experience as well. Thankfully, that was not the case. My earliest days as a pastor allowed me to settle in and learn at a relatively easygoing pace...at least for the first six months or so, after which the first big crisis hit. I shared snippets of that story on this blog as it happened.
My first week in my second pastorate was a little different.
I walked in Tuesday morning, expecting the same sort of easygoing pace complete with greetings from members who were around for various activities. The greetings happened, which I welcomed and accepted. And then the phone rang, and I got word of the first funeral that I would officiate as pastor of my new congregation.
Subsequently, I learned the following things about my new setting within the first few hours: the concerns and needs of the family, a little of the deceased's backstory, who changes the paraments and how to do it if she's not available, how best to contact the organist, what is needed for a funeral bulletin to be produced, and what might work best for me in terms of adjusting my schedule according to all of it.
All of this happened before noon.
The rest of the day, thankfully, was a little more laid-back than those first few hours. I did my textual study for my sermon and a few other more typical office things along with constantly pestering the administrative assistant with questions about how things are done (or at least how people are used to things happening).
A supervisor once told me that ministry is about interruptions. I've found this to be true many times as a pastor. I didn't expect it to be the case on that first day, but one is rarely able to expect these sorts of things.
This first week was in one sense atypical: how often might one really have to deal with a funeral right out of the box in a new ministry setting like that? But really, such events were quite typical. The needs of a congregation do not account for timing. Pastoral care concerns simply arise when they do. One does need to develop skills in prioritizing, delegation, self-awareness, and anxiety management in order to address them, but they may still come at the drop of a hat.
As an epilogue, the funeral went fine. It's always a privilege to minister to families in moments like these. I may venture that such a moment so early in a pastorate, as much as I needed to learn about the church right away, also gives the church a chance to learn something about me right away; to see me in action and the way I respond to it. If there is anything to be glad about in the midst of a time of grief, I suppose it'd be that.
So, that was my first week. Now it's onto the next.