August 18, 2019

Monday with Michael Spencer: They Bought Me, And I’m Glad

Country Church – Valle Crucis NC. Photo by Carlyle Ellis at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Monday with Michael Spencer
They Bought Me, And I’m Glad (excerpt, 2008)

• • •

There is one aspect of ordination I appreciate on a very personal level. When a congregation ordains you, they are setting you aside to serve them, yes. But they are also saying, “He belongs to us. We bought him, and until he proves himself unworthy of our confidence, he’s ours. Even when he leaves, he can still come back and know we signed his papers.”

My uncle was a pastor for almost fifty years, and he built one of the largest churches in our community in his day. But I remember that he always talked about his first church- the church that ordained him- as special. He didn’t brag about the big church when he needed to remember who he was; he recalled the country people who “bought” him as a young pastor, and took on the task of being his first church.

Years later, I was speaking in the area and some of the people from that church were present at the meeting. When I mentioned my uncle- whom I look like- many of them came up to me and excitedly told me about the love for my uncle.

Because of recent events, I need to know that someone out there still believes in me and my ministry. There are people I love who’ve always supported me who have moved on to other churches and beliefs. There are people who have trusted my preaching for years who want me to sound more like an Oprah rally or more like an angry fundamentalist. There are folks who have just noted that I’m pretty old and don’t show movie clips like I’m supposed to.

Because of where I live and the kind of preaching that’s wanted in mountain churches, requests for pulpit supply are almost non-existent. The preaching that I am paid to do is preaching for young people who, for the most part, are required to be present and would be happy to be elsewhere doing anything rather than listen to me. I love them, they respect me and it’s a good ministry, but you always know they would prefer puppets.

So today, my ordination saved me from some of the rising discouragement. I’ve been going to the little Baptist church next door for the last few weeks. Going by myself and sitting alone, which is very hard. I go and pray for whatever is going on and whatever is talked about, prayed for or preached on. It’s one of those times that I’m mostly there to remember that I am part of the people of God, and we’re on pilgrimage- going forward, foibles and all- together.

I arrived today and said hello to the pastor on the way in. He stopped and called me back to where he was standing. He wanted to know if I would preach for him next week.

It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but for me, today, it works to lift me up a little higher.

Our pastor has many preachers in his congregation to ask to preach when he is gone. He knows what’s going on in my life, and he’s aware that my stock is down a bit around here. He was choosing to encourage me.

When I preach next week, most of those who will be present will be praying for me for various reasons. While I will bring the Word, I’m expecting that I will be the one who is encouraged and helped the most.

Today, my ordination reminded me that I belong to God’s particular people, and they aren’t giving up on me. They are keeping their promise when they bought me, and they are picking me up when the road has gotten almost too steep to walk with any joy.

Most of life’s discouragements are small, and some of the largest ones are disguised as the small ones. But most of God’s encouragements look very small, too. But they aren’t. Those encouragements can be as big as the love of God itself, and when they fit exactly what you are facing, they are sweet indeed.

Comments

  1. We must never forget to encourage. To fill again with courage. To raise the spirit of someone who has been
    dis – couraged. There is an art and particular sensitivity involved. Proverbs says some things about just the right word at the right time. Empty words dangerously serve to further weaken a person. That pastor played his cards perfectly by handing the congregation over to Michael. He said you’re able and needed. That too would have been a disaster if in fact Michael was not able as the preaching could have gone badly but the pastor rightly sized it all up.

  2. –> “Most of life’s discouragements are small, and some of the largest ones are disguised as the small ones.”

    I’ve found they can build slowly, too, until you suddenly realize the weight of them is almost soul-crushing.

    –> “But most of God’s encouragements look very small, too. But they aren’t. Those encouragements can be as big as the love of God itself…”

    What amazes me is how little it takes, really. Just a cup of water at the right moment can propel my spirits to a reinvigorated heights. So..I try to remember to offer those to people with some regularity.

    That said… when depression settles in, as it often does, those cups of encouragememt need to be more frequently offered (and may not last as long), but man o man, I’ve had some down times spun around by a person unknowingly saying the right thing at the right time.

  3. John Schroeder says

    What wonderful words of wisdom. Thank you. Peace be with you.

  4. Michael’s words are always apt. Appreciate that they are kept to the forefront – reminds me why we all are here.

    On another note, five years ago this past week my son and his wife were married in Valle Crucis, NC. It’s a beautiful little hamlet, stretched out in a long green, fertile glen in the northwestern part of the state – definitely worth a visit, especially if you want to get away from the bustle of life, and disconnect from electronic media. They were not married in a chapel, but in a building that is a gathering place on part of an Episcopal retreat center.

    Also noteworthy is that the photo Chaplain Mike chose shows tombstones around the chapel. This is a feature of old Southern churches that I have noticed when we have been there – even the smallest and even the least liturgical congregations… It was simply understood that one would be interred in the churchyard. Not only was it a sober reminder, but it kept the memory alive of flesh-and-blood people who had lived in the community; the sober reminder and the memory that that specific person has died are things from which we flee today (assuming reasonably healthy relationships). “Memory” is only found in our heads, perhaps called up by a photograph of the departed one – it has no basis in the material stuff of life. More fallout from the separation of reality in a two-storey universe.

    Dana

    • That photo is of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Valle Crucis (consecrated in 1862). It’s about 4 miles down the valley from the conference center.

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