Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pastor Appreciation Month

Over a period of four and one-half decades I was the Pastor: the scholar with the ability to always find something new and personally challenging (interesting); the preacher that would woo growing numbers of visitors from the community; the teacher that fed the flock, always with steak & potatoes, and the finest salads; the expected (demanded) visitor when visitation was in order; the administrator that kept life exciting with vision, practical, and individually satisfying; and the friend with an open ear whenever someone wanted to spend a few minutes chattering, meaningful or otherwise.

Sound like a plate full; it was! It was interesting. It was demanding-24-7. It brought something new, constantly. Going into this October 2012, never have I appreciated a Pastor more than right now, as we prepare for “our Pastor” (shown above) to transition into retirement. Frankly, I do not know what I am going to do.

When we retired, our visits to the former Church at Minges Hills never were quite comfortable; we found it necessary to give North Avenue a trial run. For most of these years, we have been out a lot; we needed a church home, a base where we had a sense of belonging, where we could run to and from in keeping with what was going on in our own lives.

For several years, I traveled around Michigan with MICAP, speaking in numerous United Methodist churches + others on alcohol related subjects. Since that time, we have spent much time away, working both in Kentucky and at home with the ongoing ministries of Reformation Publishers.

Throughout the years, Jim and Susan Sparks have remained our friends and our pastors. Needless to say, it has been an interesting ride--a mutual appreciation--watching them grow in their own development, and being their friends (sometimes from a distance) - peers in ministry. We insisted we did not need their special recognition, and they have seldom been in our home, or vice versa. However, with online access et al, we have consistently stayed within hearing distance, done a few things together on occasion, and been mutually supportive sounding boards back and forth. The rest of the time we have tried to be their best Cheer Leaders, while staying out of their way as they ran at their own fast pace.

As they now lead the congregation, assisted by State Minister Bill Jones, we dread the day when Jim no longer stands in the North Avenue pulpit. Very early, Jim was our number one attraction to North Avenue, although we have longtime acquaintances in the congregation, and have made many more new and meaningful friends. All I can say, for the pastor that succeeds Jim is -- Jim set a high standard!

Jim preached a heap different from Lee Sickal (Gloria Gaither's father), who hammered home the doctrinal distinctives of our Movement back in the sixties. At first, I questioned his seeming lack of “evangelistic” preaching, but I quickly discovered new people were in attendance, people were receiving The Word, new Christians were developing, and the old Saints were getting balanced Biblical meals. Moreover, I found that I was learning as well, carrying home sermon outlines that continued churning around in my mind; I found he was churning some pretty good butter--more on this in another blog.

Jim and Susan will continue to live in our city, but they will attend elsewhere, at least for a while--the congregation will need that forced break, for the sake of the new pastor, although the new pastor will have NOTHING to fear.

Thanks to James Dobson, October is now celebrated widely as Pastor Appreciation Month. With that thought in mind, I pay my respects to our senior Pastoral team in particular. We love you, Jim and Susan. We never thought we would see this day of needing to give you up. Perhaps the best thing we can say is that WE HAVE NEVER APPRECIATED THE WORTH OF A PASTORAL COUPLE MORE THAN WE DO TODAY, as we grapple with the huge hole you leave as you prepare for this new stage in your life’s journey.

This brings a change for the rest of the clergy staff as well (and should not be overlooked)--James Sirks, and Dennis Siddal. Jim has done what few Youth Ministers have been able to do and that is to successfully grow into a 21-year ministry at North Avenue. Jim is a Youth Pastor, and while the church has insisted he double as Worship Minister; youth is Jim's niche, not worship.

As for Dennis, it took me a while to become aware of our Children’s Pastor; I‘m not a child, but if I were, I would love Dennis with all the love that children have to give! His journey within the Assemblies of God and the United Methodist Church have left Dennis competently skilled, thoroughly Christian, and deeply appreciated.

North Avenue Church of God is about to discover just how fortunate they have been for the past sixteen years, under the skilled leadership of James Leslie Sparks and wife Susan. Jim Sirks was already on board; Dennis came on board later. They have been as fine a Pastoral Team as could be found anywhere.

As our mutual friend Dr. Bill Jones works with the church to make this pastoral transition, Bill may have his hands full with … the difficult job of maintaining a new high standard … and a congregation that may have to stretch to maintain that standard.

From Warner’s World, this is

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