I don’t ride a horse. Our family van has over 220,000 miles on it and if it receives one more dent or ding, we could qualify it for a demolish derby. But, I’m dedicating it for the sake of the Gospel as a circuit rider of the Northland!
I’m starting to broaden my understanding of itinerant pastoral ministry; as one who moves from place to place as pastor in the annual conference. Certainly, as an ordained Elder in Full Connection of the United Methodist church, I have moved my family to different areas of the state as called by the Bishop to serve UM churches. However, I’m starting to think of my ordination to pastoral ministry in terms of how I itinerate; moving through the community from place to place. This is my re-interpretation of a modern day Wesleyan “circuit rider;” to move from place to place in the northland to “offer Christ.” Certainly, the church office is my base of operations, yet my ministry is in the community, moving from one area to another to offer Christ. John Wesley told his Methodist pastors that they “have nothing to do but offer Christ.” There are plenty of other pastors here, yet I am the United Methodist pastor placed in this community to offer Christ.
I want to start sharing the stories from this itinerant “circuit riding” ministry. The initial strides I’m taking to move this way are through prayer walks and by applying to be a Gladstone Police Chaplain. There will certainly be others, yet today was a busy day! Quoting The Fellowship of the Ring, as JRR Tolkien says, “It’s dangerous business going out your front door.”
I’ve started a prayer walk around the neighborhoods in the midst of where our church building is located. So, these blogs will often be a reflection on those prayer walks. When that happens, I will not use specific locations or names of those I encounter to ensure privacy and confidentiality, but I do want to take this space to prayerfully reflect on this ministry, the effect it might have on the community and on my ministry. I may walk through the same neighborhood over and over, or I may move to a different one, the idea is to follow Jesus through our community knowing that His grace goes before me and is already active and at work for those whom I’m praying.
Let me begin by saying how grateful I was to be outside in ministry today! This particular mid-day prayer walk was on a very quiet yet beautiful day. The sun shined brightly as a cool breeze followed me through the neighborhood. When I pulled in I immediately had to fight through the guilt of not being there for prayer when the weather was less accommodating; something to grow into. I hope I can be the pastor that will continue to minister in this way “in season and out.”
Though there was only one person in that area this time around I never felt alone; I immediately knew that I was walking with Christ. I pray almost non-stop during these walks, but when I encounter someone I just politely say “hey” and include a polite remark or engage in small talk, if possible. Part of what I’m praying for is to reach those in these neighborhoods that do not know Jesus Christ as Lord, so there is an evangelistic heart at work, but I don’t believe in “in your face” evangelism, I don’t knock on doors, and I’m not passing out bibles. My hope is to become known as the pastor who prayer walks around the neighborhood and get to know the people who live there, finding opportunities to offer Christ as they present themselves. As I prayer walk through the neighborhood, I pray over each house, and over the neighborhood as a whole. I pray fervently for the neighborhood, including all that dwells there, would belong to Christ. I pray for the Spirit to bring physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health to all who live there. I pray for an opportunity to be a vessel for God in that neighborhood and that our church would be that sanctuary for them to worship Him and grow in his grace and love. I pray as lead by the Spirit to pray, sometimes in hushed tones, sometimes silently, but always praying and praising God. Today I found many physical cues in and around people’s homes that lead to different kinds of prayers. I found that to be refreshing as I tried to be open for new things to pray about as lead by the Spirit. At times I felt my pace quicken, and had to intentionally slow down, especially as I started. This lead me to be more intentional about being present with Christ in my prayer, not just going through the motions of a new prayer program. I even found myself praying that my intentions for this ministry were pure, motivated by God’s love to offer Christ, not just a gimmick to fill pews, as that is always a constant pressure as a pastor. Just as wearing a clergy collar daily is not a gimmick.
Earlier in the morning, I couldn’t find any of my clergy collar shirts that I’ve been wearing on a daily basis. So I reconciled myself to wearing an appropriately nice knit short sleeve shirt. Yet, it felt oddly uncomfortable. This prompted a more thorough search for my clergy attire, and so I was a bit relieved to find the newly cleaned shirts pulled aside from the rest of the laundry. I happily pulled one out and donned my clergy “uniform,” then headed on to the church office.
Shortly after my prayer walk after a quick lunch of peanut butter on toast and an apple, I went to the Gladstone City Hall to pick up an application to serve as police chaplain. This is something I’ve been investigating for a few weeks as a way to offer spiritual leadership and support in the community. As I waited in the lobby the only other person there was a young woman patiently sitting. We shared a quick, polite smile as I walked past to the rather sterile reception desk protected by glass, intercoms, and a locked door. The Public Safety office certainly embodied what it was proclaiming. As I approached the reception desk, the woman asked if I was a priest. As I’ve worn my clergy shirt and collar on a more regular basis beyond Sunday mornings and in the community, I’ve become more accustomed to those types of inquiries. I politely informed her I wasn’t a priest, but I am pastor. Without hesitating she asked if I would pray for her. She indicated she was three days sober but there was a man she cared about a great deal that she wanted prayers for. We stopped, joined hands, and in the lobby of the Public Safety office for the City of Gladstone, prayed together. I’m quite certain God had been at work on me to wear my clergy attire, otherwise, I’m sure that ministry opportunity would not have happened.
My hope is to find myself each day where I may offer Christ in the midst of the community where we are planted and bearing fruit for His Kingdom. I hope to continue to share those stories in this journal.