Like circa 1994.
Last week the Memories feature of Facebook alerted my mother to a photo of me, Patty, Kimberly, and Tommie from 1994. One of the first things you notice, other than my not-so-stylish look, is more hair. Some people lose hair as a result of stress. Others lose hair because that is what happens in your family when you get older. It is in the genes. So I accept male patterned baldness as a sign of maturity.
Twenty-seven years ago our family moved to Tuttle. Snow Hill Baptist Church extended a call to us to serve as Pastor and Pastor’s Family. We experienced some firsts. We bought our first house. We still live in it. The two churches we served as pastor prior to the move owned parsonages. For those not familiar with that term it refers to a church-owned residence designated for the Pastor and his family. Other denominations may use a different term like manse. It is home but not home. For instance, in our first church Pink might stop by with donuts some morning and might actually just walk in. Or, in our second church you learned that while it is your house to live in, Cordell mowed the lawn and we would need to pay him despite the fact that I had mowed lawns since I was 9 years old.
Don’t misunderstand. Small rural churches need(ed) parsonages. Budget constraints did not allow a salary large enough to help a young family purchase a house so this benefit was much appreciated. We did our best, like most pastor families, to make their house feel like our home. Over our time here we have thought about selling and buying a newer home or building. Maybe it is the sense that this is our first home that makes it so difficult to imagine. It is like wishing I still had my first truck, a 1946 Chevy.
In 1999 we celebrated five years, also a first. Pastoral tenure relies on a complex matrix. There is no guarantee of any length of time in our denomination. Things like fit, desire, drive, contentment, conflict, resolution, expectations (known and unknown), and many more issues in no way exclude the possibility God leads to a new call. I note that carefully. We must admit that as with any vocation some need to be reminded of Erma Bombeck’s little book, The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank. Why note that we celebrated our first five years? Well, in our denomination, at least when I began pastoring, the average tenure in Oklahoma was 22 months. Today the average tenure across denominations is more than seven years. Five years doubled the average I was told of in 1988.
Our church grew to add other full-time staff members, also a first. In our first church I served as Pastor, youth minister and third string music minister all at the same time. Small rural churches, like with small rural school districts, have leaders that wear many hats. Today our current staff has a combined tenure of 73 years, not quite 20 years a person. That does not come without the development of friendship and trust. Our Church is aware that we serve more as a team than a collection of independents. Hopefully I have brought the good of my own staff experience to bear on our time together here.
I could add many more firsts. Buildings. Debt. Debt retirement. Unexpected, and painful, funerals. Tragic natural disasters. Daughters weddings. Surprise blessings. And more.
The one constant over these years? Our opportunity to love and be loved by a group of people sharing the Mission of God in our community and world. In fact, just recently I was asked what keeps me pastoring, even here. My response is, “We have a place where we are loved and given the opportunity to love while serving in the Way of Jesus together.”