Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Farewell and Godspeed

As I finish my ministry at Amazing Grace, I also finish my time blogging here at Not A Shouting Church. This blog, however, is not over. It will continue to be a communications tool of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.

In this next chapter of my pastoral vocation, I will share thoughts and reflections at my new personal blog, http://borderpastor.wordpress.com.

God's peace,
Pastor Paul

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pastor Paul's last Sunday

Today was my last Sunday at Amazing Grace. With exuberant hospitality, Amazing Grace marked the day with a potluck at noon. We also marked it liturgically during worship. With both sadness and deep gratitude, we had special prayer of thanksgiving for ministry, which included the congregation and I blessing each other. I would not have picked the lectionary text about adultery, lust and divorce, but the image from 1 Corinthians 3 was helpful for realizing that many people are involved in the work of ministry, but God is the actor. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

I realize that all ministry is interim ministry, because there is something before and something after. I had not planned to be at Amazing Grace so short of a time; in some ways, I’m an “unintentional interim,” but I leave trusting in God’s grace. It is hard for a congregation to say goodbye to a pastor, but it is also hard for a pastor to say goodbye to a congregation.

As I leave Amazing Grace, I won’t see what happens next. I won’t see babies I baptized come to Sunday school. I won’t be the one visiting in the nursing home. I will no longer be pastor here, but will continue as your co-worker in the Gospel as a colleague in the conference and synod. Seeds planted for me here will come to fruition somewhere else. I have learned so much. We have learned so much together at Amazing Grace.

My last wordle

Here is a worlde of today's sermon manuscript.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Salty Wordle

Here is what I preached on Sunday. It's the salt and light passage from Matthew 5. As salty Christians, we can fuction as a healing, preserving, and melting presence in the world. There was an episode of Seinfeld a few years back where Kramer has a part in a Woody Allen film. His only line: "These pretzels are making me thirsty!"

My prayer is that our neighbors, our co-workers, the other kids in school, and all the world see us living out our faith and say, "These Christians are making me thirsty!" Thirsty for God's justice and love, that is. Just a few verses before that salt and light stuff, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."


It’s getting to be time to say goodbye. This coming Sunday is my last at Amazing Grace before I take another call at a Spanish-speaking congregation near the border. I realize it’s relatively premature to leave Amazing Grace after only two years, and I greatly struggled with whether I should make this big transition or not.

In the long run, I feel this is a good move for me and for the wider Church. It’s good stewardship to have bilingual clergy in settings where those gifts are greatly needed. In the short run, however, it seems difficult for Amazing Grace. We have had quite a bit of transition and change in the recent years: a new pastor, new musician, building repairs, dwindling attendance, financial uncertainty, turnover with lay leadership. Just as the congregation is getting used to me and just as we’re in the slow process of gaining momentum and renewing focus, I leave. It’s tough because I was looking forward to working with some newer leaders on Council, and I’m enjoying cooperating with two other congregations for Confirmation. We’re just at the point where we need to do some visioning and planning for the future.

Yet, I am hopeful for Amazing Grace. As sad as it is to leave, I realize that I am opening up an opportunity for another pastor. All ministry is interim ministry. I've planted seeds that someone else will harvest. This is an opportune time for Amazing Grace to do some careful discerning and planning. Amazing Grace is a pretty resilient people. Strengths I see: Amazing Grace is a pretty friendly place; there is a welcoming spirit. Amazing Grace likes to have fun. Amazing Grace has the grace to live with disagreement well. Whereas a few families have transferred membership and chosen not to worship due to disagreement with ELCA policies, Amazing Grace has not had the major conflict and division that other congregations in our synod have had. This is a good sign!

What’s next at Amazing Grace? We’re in the process of saying goodbye. Last night, I had an exit interview with our executive committee and the conference dean. It was a helpful time to name what went right and what to try to do better in the future. I’m spending these last days doing some final visits, packing up stuff, and getting the office in order. We’re finishing up some paperwork (ELCA parochial report, membership records), and I’m writing a “turnover book” with some instructions for the new pastor. Council is meeting this week to interview a possible interim pastor. Liturgically, we will say goodbye on Sunday with a litany of thanksgiving for ministry that will include mutual benediction: I bless the congregation and the congregation blesses me. Also, in good Amazing Grace style, we have food—there’s a potluck Sunday at 12 noon.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


A few weeks ago, I heard somebody say, “Prayer is advocacy.” I found that phrase to be helpful and reassuring. Oftentimes, I don’t feel that I do enough of “speaking for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed,” which is part of my Letter of Call as a pastor of the ELCA.

When we pray, God is listening, but so are the others in the assembly. We make our concerns collective concerns. I’ve made it my discipline to compile the prayers for worship each week. I try to be mindful of events in our congregation and world. Sometimes the prayers from the hymnal or the liturgy websites are nice, but they don’t always speak to our present situations.

I frequently repeat petitions from week to week. Here are a few that I use almost every Sunday:

Healing and sustaining God, you hold in your comforting hands all those who long
for healing and wholeness. Bring your reassuring presence and loving strength.
We especially lift up in prayer those we name either aloud or in the silence of
our hearts…

Welcoming God, help us embrace a spirit of hospitality.
Give us the courage to visit strangers. Be with those who do not always feel
welcomed in this world.

God of Time and Eternity, you enter our
world and journey with us, even to death on the cross. Your story becomes our
story. Be with us as we tell stories of our lives and listen to one another.

Holy God, we pray for peace. Be with people affected by violence
and disaster. Be with those affected by war and terrorism. Be with those who are
considered terrorists. We pray for our enemies. We pray for those who disagree
with us. Stir up in us the spirit of peace.

I love Wordles because they help us see what words we use frequently in our writing. Here is a Wordle of about thirty weeks of prayers I have written at Amazing Grace. I had expected the words “hospitality,” “peace,” and “lament” to show up bigger than they did. I’m relieved that “God” ended up being pretty big, because it is God to whom we direct our prayers.

Monday, January 17, 2011


When reading my seminary’s alumni magazine, where people can send in updates about what they’re doing now, I noticed wide diversity in the prepositions pastors use to describe their calls. Thinking about these little two- and three- letter words might seem nit-picky, but they have major implications for how we think about the relationship between pastor and people. Am I pastor at, to, with, or from Amazing Grace, or all of these? I don’t think that there is necessarily a wrong answer, but it’s worth thinking about.

At: This is what I probably use most often in everyday speech, but boggles my theological sensibilities. I frequently introduce myself, “I am Paul Bailie, pastor at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.” This seems to be the most natural to me, but it also presents an ecclesiology that is somewhat limited. “At” makes the church seem like a location or a place, when as Lutherans we understand the Church to be more than a building or an address, but the assembly of the saints. This goes along with my quixotic practice of avoiding the word “church” when talking about an individual congregation. The Church is the Body of Christ across time and space—something hard to pinpoint in a specific locus.

To: “To” seems a bit patronizing to me, like the pastor has all the answers and the people don’t. A large congregation I know describes one of their pastors as “pastor to the international community.” It’s like the immigrants need to be ministered to, instead of being active co-participants in the life of the ministry. Grammatically, I guess it’s ok, but it feels more condescending than I would like.

With: Maybe “with” seems more like the partnership that I’d aim for. I’m pastor with Amazing Grace. It sounds clumsy when you say it, but implies that the people of the congregation are ministers along with me. We are laborers in the vineyard together.

From: I don’t use “from” enough, as in “I am pastor from Amazing Grace.” This implies that I’m functioning as a representative of the congregation, doing ministry in the community. Our Lutheran church structure seems like it encourages the pastor to serve as a big deal in their own dukedom or bailiwick, instead of being an ambassador to the world.