A couple of weeks ago I was nearing the end of my office decorating. I remembered how many Zoom calls I had participated in over the previous three years- how the background behind my head communicated so much to the people on the other end of the video call. Put something visually interesting there; think about lighting, etc. I turned on my computer’s camera to look behind me- and I saw an empty corner. I need a plant! Where can I find an unused plant around here? Upstairs!
There is a room up there that is used for storage. I stashed my office stuff there for the month or so before Pastor Paul moved out. I found a plant! But then… hello. What’s in this box?? T-shirts. T-shirts from youth choir tours. From 2012. Or 2011. These were brand new, never worn. I grabbed three XLs: my favorite is the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat from 2008. Seriously, find me at Kroger or someplace and there is a good chance I will be wearing a Spring Valley UMC t-shirt from a dozen or more years ago! What were those tours like? Who attended? Is anyone from those tours still around the church?
I read an article today by Dr. Bill Wilson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, called “Four Traps for Clergy When Moving to a New Congregation.” He said,
A new minister coming into a congregation is a wonderful season of new beginnings and possibilities. People await a new pastor with great expectations. Often those expectations are exaggerated and grandiose. The new pastor is seen as the one who will reverse decades of decline, inspire apathetic congregants, make everyone happy at all times, and never disappoint. Sometimes the grandiosity is in the mind of the new minister. She or he thinks this church is everything the last church was not. The grass looks so green on this side of the fence! Personal foibles and bad habits are overlooked in the infatuation with a new opportunity.
Unrealistic expectations, wherever they originate, are a setup. They lead us away from God’s design for us and His church. And they trap us in impossible situations. A new minister will never succeed as the Messiah, and the congregation will soon expose its cracks and fissures, reminding everyone that it really isn’t heaven on earth. Talking about this and anticipating the inevitable disappointments is an essential component of a healthy relationship between minister and congregation. The humility that comes when we acknowledge that we are all earthen vessels and deeply flawed is a great place to begin a relationship between minister and congregation.
Dr Wilson also mentioned the importance of the new pastor’s first 100 days: “The first 100 days offer a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for a new minister to define himself or herself and establish some trajectories for ministry.” I am now at my 15th day at Spring Valley, meaning I have another 85 days to go (I’m not counting the week I will spend in Florida at the end of this month with a group of students from Grace UMC; more on that next Friday!). Throughout August and September there will be many times for me to hear from you and you from me- sometimes in small to medium sized groups, sometimes one on one. I am always available Tuesday-Friday for coffee, lunch, chats in the office.. only call the church or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure I am around. We can also connect via social media; find me at pastorfrankdrenner.com or Frank Drenner III on Facebook and Instagram.
The experience of the hidden t-shirts made me think of all the forgotten, untold or undertold Spring Valley UMC stories. I want to hear all of them, and over the next three months I hope to take every opportunity to hear and celebrate as a new vision for our ministry together forms. In the meantime, yes, there are absolutely more shirts up there in the box if you want one!