This morning, I attended worship at St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perkasie. In fact, I preached there today. This was a very special day for me, because St. Andrew’s holds a very dear place in my heart. Right out of seminary, but long before I became ordained a pastor (that’s a different story), I began to work at St. Andrew’s as their Director of Education/Pastoral Assistant. I was there for five years, overseeing the youth and Christian Education ministries, and also doing some occasional preaching and pastoral care. I went there very green and naive, overconfident and arrogant. I left there five years later with what I thought of as a mixed legacy…I had accomplished some things, but along the way, I had also made some significant errors in judgment and sloppy mistakes. When I left there twelve years ago, they told me then that they would miss me, and that I had done great work…but I have always wondered. I’ve always wondered if the ways I helped a few young people grow in faith and leadership were enough to make up for those I yelled at, and may have turned away from the church. I’ve always wondered if the people whose lives I touched were enough to make up for the people whom I angered and annoyed. I’ve always wondered if the ways I was able to help the senior pastor there made up for the ways I made his life harder. I’ve always wondered if I was just fooling myself that I made a difference.
But that’s the depression talking. That’s the dark voice inside talking. I know rationally that I did make some mistakes, and I did do some things right. And I know that when I left, I heard such wonderful things from so many people. I was given such beautiful gifts and well-wishes. I know rationally that nobody can ever do everything perfectly, but I also know that I tried to be faithful. I tried to be honest. I tried to use my gifts to enhance the ministries of St. Andrew’s. And I know that on balance, I did do so. But it is so hard to remember that. It is so hard to keep that in mind. It is so hard to not let it take over.
So they invited me there today because this is their 150th anniversary year. Throughout the year, they are inviting former pastors to return and preach. While I am not technically a former pastor, I suppose I am a former preacher there (I did preach about 8-10 times a year while I was there), and I’m now a pastor. So a few months ago, the pastor called to invite me, and when he asked when I’d like to come, I thought that perhaps doing it during my medical leave would be a good thing. My role would be to preach during the two worship services, and also say a few words at a special breakfast held between the services.
So I was driving there this morning very anxious. I was anxious about my sermon, anxious about my speech. I was anxious also about just going there. Would anyone there still be upset with me? And I was anxious about the content of my sermon…I planned to speak about my depression, about my medical leave. While this talk has been welcome at my current congregation, would it be unwelcome here? When I served at St. Andrew’s in my twenties, I wasn’t as open about my condition as I am now. (And frankly, I didn’t understand it as well then either.) Oh, all these things were floating around in my head. I didn’t know what to expect.
It was wonderful. Why didn’t I expect that? I was welcomed with open arms and big smiles. Lots of hugs and lots of memories. My sermon seemed to go over well, and several people told me that it touched them or that it helped them understand a loved one better. Ah, why do I get myself so worked up?
It was wonderful. I was so happy to see so many people from such an important part of my past. I poured so much of myself into that job, as I tend to do. And today I was reminded that it was not in vain. I really did make a difference in some people’s lives. And they made a difference in mine. It was so good to see people who cared for me, who believed in me, people whom I care for and whom I believe in. I was thinking this afternoon about how to put my feelings into words, and the word that kept popping up was “home.” I felt like I was home this morning. It just felt right to be there. They are my friends, my family. I don’t say this to in any way disparage my current congregation. On the contrary, I realize today that I am so very, very blessed. Because I have more than one home.
I have several places that have become homes to me, and I think that’s because I have let people into my life, and I have shared of myself with them. It’s risky to do that…it can hurt. And it has hurt. But it also creates something far more important, far more powerful than hurt. It creates home. I know I won’t be there very often. But today, just for today, St. Andrew’s was home. And I feel so very, very blessed.
And I know, I know very well, that my current congregation is every bit as much of a home, and I will return to it in just four weeks. I know that I will be welcomed back there with open arms, many hugs, and so much joy. I know that they will be so excited to have me back. I know that on that day, I will feel like I’m home again. And I will be.
Later this evening, I will publish the sermon I preached today at St. Andrew’s.