Do you remember January? Though it was only six months ago, it seems like light years. We say “January” and it feels like we are evoking a mythical time and place. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for me to recall January. So much of it seems lost in a fog that blurs memories of what defined “normal” or “ordinary”. Dropping my kids off at school, meeting a friend for coffee, casually chatting around my neighbor’s kitchen island, visiting relatives across the state, worshipping as a community of faith—was that real?
It was in January that I interviewed for the position of sabbatical pastor. I don’t remember what I wore that day. I don’t remember who sat around the table. I don’t remember the questions I answered and asked. I do remember thinking it would be an encouraging and formative ministry experience for me and for the congregation. The Spirit moved me to pray and open my heart to a summer of ministry with First Pres.
When I accepted the call to serve in Pastor Craig’s absence, I looked forward to meeting all of you, to greeting you every Sunday, to singing God’s praise in the sanctuary together, to enjoying sweet fellowship made even sweeter with coffee and donuts, to joining hands with you in prayer, to meals and walks in beautiful downtown Coeur d’Alene, to equipping and encouraging the amazing staff, to gathering in spaces to learn and lead. My vision for our season of ministry together was glowing and beautiful.
Like so many visions we’ve had during the past few months, my vision shattered. I still haven’t met so many of you; we haven’t joined hands to pray; we haven’t lifted our voices to sing; we haven’t enjoyed one cup of coffee or one (truthfully, two) donuts; we haven’t been able to smile or laugh together. I grieve all that we’ve lost and I pray someday the Spirit will bring us back together.
Even as my vision for our ministry together shattered, God opened my eyes to discover beauty in the brokenness. The compassion, wisdom, and grace I encountered every time I met with the session reassured me of God’s faithful presence. The creativity, dedication, and adaptability of the staff revealed the work of the Spirit in and through them. Your generous giving to the mission and ministry of First Pres served as an anchor in storms of uncertainty. Your willingness to worship together in virtual spaces cultivated hope by reminding me that we worship a God who isn’t bound by buildings. Over and over, I witnessed Love1st being lived out in ways none of us anticipated. Together, we navigated uncharted waters—streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans—while not losing sight of our call to love God, one another, and our neighbors. I believe with all my heart God will continue to use First Pres to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in authentic and innovative ways.
As my time as your sabbatical pastor comes to a close, I want to share a blessing with you. It is written by Jan Richardson, one of my favorite artists and authors. I imagine us speaking this blessing to one another as we begin to walk the next path God has for us.
In His Name, Pastor Jennie
Rev. Jennie Barber
This Day We Say Grateful
A Sending Blessing by Jan Richardson
It is a strange thing to be so bound and so released all in the same moment, to feel the heart open wide and wider still even as it turns to take its leave. On this day, let us say this is simply the way love moves in its ceaseless spiraling, turning us toward one another, then sending us into what waits for us with arms open wide to us in welcome and in hope.
On this day, in this place where you have poured yourself out, where you have been emptied and filled and emptied again, may you be aware more than ever of what your heart has opened to here, what it has tended and welcomed here, where it has broken in love and in grief, where it has given and received blessing in the unfathomable mystery that moves us, undoes us, and remakes us finally for joy.
This day may you know this joy in full measure.
This day may you know this blessing that gathers you in and sends you forth but will not forget you.
O hear us as this day we say grace; this day we say grateful; this day we say blessing; this day we release you in God’s keeping and hold you in gladness and love.