Auspicious and Dangerous | A Charge to a Pastor

On Sunday September 21, 2014 I offered this charge to Rev. Leonard Sponaugle on the occasion of his installation as Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, NY.  

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Earth Day 2007 by Bruce Irving (Creative Commons)

Earth Day 2007 by Bruce Irving (Creative Commons)

Today in New York City and in many of other locations around this world, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of people are in the streets.

Marching.

Singing.

Protesting.

Praying.

Holding Hands.

Walking.

Demonstrating.

Movement Building.

Being community.

 

The largest convergence ever for the Earth, the People’s Climate March.

 

Leonard…

You are being installed today as the Pastor of the Johnstown Presbyterian Church.

You are being installed today to lead a community of faith in the way of Jesus Christ.

You are being installed today to a ministry that is not just for this congregation in this place, but to the ministry of our Presbytery and our denomination.

 

Ministry has always been, but it is especially today—

Deadly serious business.

 

The Creation is our first gift from God.

And so people all over the world, many of them Christians are out in the streets today.

Many congregations in and around New York City had worship out on the streets this morning.

Crying out for us to stop our madness which is

killing the one and only home that God gave us.

As Christians we call this sin.

The sin of turning our back on God.

 

Leonard…

You are being called to ministry for this time.

A time that includes the time when we are watching the first gift

that God has given us die around us.

And we are among those who have participated in its death.

This is an auspicious and a dangerous time to be in ministry.

 

Closer to home, here in Fulton County, 16.5% of the population lives in poverty. That is 9,000 souls in this county that live in poverty.

Equal to the total number of people that live here in Johnstown, just to give a frame of reference.

 

Leonard…

You are being called to ministry in this time.

You are being called to this place to lead a congregation in ministry in this context.

You are being called to help others know

and hear the voice of Jesus Christ in this situation.

This is an auspicious and a dangerous time to be in ministry.

 

This is an auspicious time because it is a time of great need.

And it is a time where you will be called upon to be a missionary in a place in our country where many people are unconnected from faith communities.

You and this congregation have opportunity for growth and new life all around you.

There are people who are physically and spiritually hungry.

There are communities in desperate need of leadership.

There are places in need of revitalization.

 

So I encourage you to seize this auspicious moment.

Get out onto the streets and meet the people.

Engage with the leadership in whatever form in takes in this community.

Reach across the aisle to those who would not normally be your partners.

 

And look for those who have been left out of leadership.

Those who are on the margins.

Go and find them.

Ask your congregation members who have been here a long time and know this community to take you to those places so you can listen and know what the hurts and what the needs are in those places. Sit with those people and those communities.

 

Be with them.

And serve them.

Mobilize this congregation to be outside and in mission to this community at double the rate at which it is focused on its own internal needs and programs.

Open the doors of this congregation to the community in new ways.

Invite youth in to find a safe place.

Encourage community groups to come here and meet.

You have opportunity upon opportunity for ministry in this place.

Grab every single one you can and train and send each member of this congregation to be a local missionary in service with this community.

Grow this community of faith.

This is the auspicious moment for this community of faith.

Do not allow it to pass by yours or this congregation’s notice.

Lead them out into the community.

 

This is also a dangerous time for ministry because this is a moment when so many of our congregations and communities are afraid to do the things I just outlined. We want to play it safe. We are overwhelmed by the changing landscape around us. It is frightening to be in a different place of influence than what we are used to in the past. We look around and we see that other congregations in the Presbyterian Church close by to us are closed. We look around town and notice that some of our ecumenical partners have also closed their doors. It scares us. And this is what makes this a dangerous time. Because in our fear we might not take a risk, we might not try something new and we might decide to stay inside these doors.

 

It is a dangerous time for you, Leonard as the pastor and the leader. Because so many of us work to lead in this time and are pushed back by the forces of fear. But it is also an auspicious time because if you grab onto the opportunities around you and you get out in the community in risk-filled ways, the community will engage this ministry in ways we cannot even imagine and the Spirit will do a new thing among us.

 

So my charge to you today Leonard is simple.

Be the leader.

Be Spirit-led.

Follow Jesus.

Care for the Creation, every single part of it that is gifted to us in love by our amazing and loving God.

Go out into the community.

Take this congregation out into the community.

Teach them to give the majority of their time in love and mission and service to others, always following the example of Jesus.

Use this auspicious moment for the furthering of the Kin-dom in this place.

Do not waver when things become dangerous.

Do your best ministry of your life in this place.

Take tons of risks.

And do not forget even though I’ve charged you with so much,

Never forget,

That your new friends and colleagues in this Presbytery and in this

Community are here for you.

 

Be Christ like.

Be a servant-leader.

In the auspicious and in the dangerous moments.

 

Blessings Leonard upon you

And upon this congregation.

As you share this ministry.

Amen.

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