Saturday, July 18, 2009

Moves Should Be Long and Slow

The best meal that I ever had was at a four or five star restaurant in St. Maarten during my honeymoon. I had the most exquisite Argentinian steak and the perfect glass of wine to match. To be sure, the food was great, but I think of this now and understand that the food was just part of the overall atmosphere. We ate slowly, Carrie and I, savoring the magnificent fare before us. We were not on a schedule; we did not feel the anxiety of a wait staff hungry for the tips that would come with a new customer. There was no pressure but to enjoy the food and, above all, each other.

I say all this because I am realizing again just how emotionally jarring family moves can be; realizing, perhaps, that they do not have to be so jarring.

I am pictured here taking apart the cradle that we had purchased and stained prior to our second child's arrival. I was in a hurry to take it apart and put it into its moving box so that I could get to other things. Then God intervened. I realized that I would probably never see this piece of furniture together again. I was rushing through my packing job like I would rush through the drive-through lane at a fast food restaurant. What I should have done is invite the children down to help me, and talk to them about when they slept in it, where we lived, etc. In that way the move could have been a blessed family time, as it would have led to other discussions about the way God has guided us in our past, and how He will do so in the future. Instead, the cradle was almost completely apart when, by God's grace, I was permitted a moment of insight. Thankfully interrupted, I went upstairs and invited the firstborn to come down and take a picture of her dad taking apart a piece of furniture.

It would be nice if we had a month or two to do this; that is, it would be a blessing for a move to be sacred time, a time to pause and remember how we got to where we are, to make of the sorting of artifacts a time of growth and renewal. Instead, moving time is mostly busy and physically efficient, with the occasional flicker of grace and insight. I am thankful for that latter moment now, thankful for the years of grace behind us that make a great foundation for what is ahead...
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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Treasures Found While Packing

Pictured to the left is my wife's Franklin Planner page for 18 November 2000. This was discovered last night as we sat up in the living room until midnight going through old papers that might be "pitched" in preparation for our move to Chicago.

Recorded with joy for posterity is a brief dinner table interchange between myself (L) and my first-born, a daughter (S), then just 27 months old. She was (and is!) an extraordinarily verbal child. While we found this is fairly common for girls, Carrie and I had marveled that we could actually have a conversation and reason with a child just a year-and-a-half old! Here at just over two, you can see that she has already developed a lively sense of verbal play, an ability that is blooming.

For those who cannot read the pictured text, here it is:

L to S: "Shall we pray?"
S: "No. I can't. I'm picking my nose."
L to S: "OK. Well, let us know when you're done picking your nose so we can pray."
S: "OK."

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Announcing a Farewell to a Beloved Congregation

Today I had to announce my acceptance of the call to be the Pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church and School in Chicago, Illinois. Below is the text of the letter that I read to my congregation today at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Van Wert...

12 July, A.D. 2009

Emmanuel Lutheran Church

705 S. Washington St.

Van Wert, OH 45891

Dear Brothers and Sisters at Emmanuel,

As many of you know, I have accepted the call to St. Philip Lutheran Church and School in Chicago, Illinois. There is a temptation in such situations to say too much or too little. I will try to avoid both extremes.

Since our visit to Chicago in early May we have done a lot of thinking about the last seven years. I imagine myself in the pulpit, looking out over the congregation, and seeing how the “face” of the congregation has changed. There are a lot of new faces, many faces that returned in these last years, a few faces that left, and many faces that we will not see again until the Lord takes us to Himself. We have been through a lot together: a tornado, basement floods, a building project, a remodeling project, the expansion of our TV ministry, and the beginning of our Web ministry. We have grieved together, prayed together, rejoiced together. Here the O’Donnells welcomed a new daughter, buried a son, and labored together with our church family to make ours a family of six.

Here at Emmanuel I learned, with your help, to be a real Lutheran pastor. As a student and vicar I loved preaching, but you helped teach me in a new way to apply Law and Gospel to the deepest realities of peoples’ lives. While preaching and teaching the Gospel is my greatest joy in the Ministry, my greatest honor in the ministry is the care of the sick and shut-ins, especially the care of those nearing the end of life; here, too, you have helped me learn to be what the Germans call a Seelsorger, “curer of souls.”

Yet, these cannot be the only things considered. Back in the spring of 2002 I had been asking the Lord if it was time to leave graduate school early. “Lord,” we prayed, “do we stay or is it time to go?” Out of the blue, shortly after those prayers began, I was asked whether I would be willing to consider a call to Van Wert, and a few months later, on the heels of a tornado, we were in the parsonage. It has been a whirlwind ever since, but most definitely a blessed one. Nevertheless, early this year a similar question came back to my consciousness. I began to ask the Lord whether it might be time for new leadership at Emmanuel, and the only way to know was if I had a call to consider. I was told by the District that in the current climate it could take four years for a call to emerge. That was fine with me; thus, we were shocked when the phone call from St. Philip came less than four months later.

As I told you, St. Philip is an urban congregation with a school. The usual report in such situations is that the church is doing reasonably well and school is in trouble. That seems to be reversed at St. Philip. The school appears to be thriving. The church, on the other hand, appears to be in a situation similar to Emmanuel’s at the time of Pastor Barlow’s arrival, struggling from recent difficulties but with the possibility of recovery. It is a congregation that as of the late 1990s had over 300 in worship on Sunday in two services and now has 70 in one service. St. Philip is in one of the most ethnically diverse and densely populated areas in the U.S. It is a challenging ministry situation and, in a sense, a risky one. Needless to say, the call to serve there gave us a lot to consider.

In spite of the wonderful relationships that have developed, the great comfort and familiarity and prospects here in Ohio, versus the challenging ministry situation there—the starting over, the challenge to family life, the surprising timing, et cetera—after much reflection my conviction is that this is God’s will. I am confident that great things are in store for Van Wert and for Emmanuel. I believe that if the lay leadership at Emmanuel will rise to the challenge of the vacancy, especially the challenge of fulfilling the catechetical goals that we recently set, then Emmanuel will be poised to take advantage of the good things that I trust are going to happen in Van Wert. That is my prayer for you, that you will now begin a new season of growth in which God is preparing you for the great things that you cannot yet see.

Friends, it has been my honor to serve you, but I believe I must respectfully request your peaceful release, that I may begin my service at St. Philip.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Lance Armstrong O’Donnell