A guest blog by Melissa DeRosia and Shannon Meacham
Shannon: It was November 2010 when I stood in the pulpit of Gates Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. I was there participating in the installation of Melissa DeRosia, my best friend since seminary, giving the charge to the pastor. Who better to charge the pastor than her best friend? Someone who knows the most intimate details of her life and faith and call? No one.So, I charged Melissa to be true to her call, to be authentic, not to turn into whom she thought they wanted her to be, but to whom God created and called her to be. But as I sat and another stood to give the charge to the congregation I wondered if we had it all wrong. Maybe I should have been telling the congregation how amazing she is, and all the good work she does for friends, her family, larger community and me. Not to mention the work she does for the church at large. Charging them with the responsibility of knowing her value.
Melissa: I carry the charge with me in my Bible. Occasionally, leading Bible study the paper falls out, I read a bit of the charge and remember the amazing words. God created me to be me and that is all I ever need to be. On my best days I remember this blessing, and on my not-so-good days I wonder if it’s enough. Sometimes, I wonder if the people with who I serve believe it is enough. Being part of a denomination that values its “connected nature” means I spend time serving at the presbytery or national level. I talk with my congregation about what I am doing. A few of them might even get excited or offer a word of gratitude. Practically speaking, what it means is I am out of the office and unavailable when there may be a pastoral care visit that is needed, a meeting that could have been scheduled or time spent on a sermon.
This work we do, inside and out of our congregations, non-profits or ministries is more than anyone sitting in the pew could ever realize. Really, pastors barely have job descriptions and when we do, they are boiled down to “pastoral care” or “preaching.” And we are certainly not the type to stand up and ask our congregations, “Yeah, you know what I did this week?”
I bailed one of you out of jail. I fought in a committee meeting for something no one else seems to care about. I sat and listened to the story of what is really going on behind that smile and perfectly put together family that sits in church on Sunday morning.
Some days we want to stand up in a meeting or in worship and say to the people, “Do you know what we have done this week? For you, for others, for the larger church?” But we don’t and some may say, we can’t.
But someone else can… (and we’ll argue should).
What if we could do this for each other? Intentionally. What if we took our community of pastors, our denomination, our continuing education groups, whomever, and covenanted to guest preach at a service for them or attend a session meeting with them? What if at the beginning of that service or meeting you stood up and told something wonderful about that pastor, some wonderful way in which she or he has affected your life for the better? Affected the denomination or the church at large for the better?
Melissa: From my experience serving on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board I worked with some pretty amazing people. Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase are at the top that list. In conjunction with a visit to my presbytery, Rick offered to preach at the church I serve. Rick spent a bit of time sharing with the congregation more about how we knew each other. He paused, making eye contact with the congregation and thanked them. He thanked them for supporting me in the work I did with the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and Stony Point Conference Center. He told the congregation about the gifts I shared through my service. In so many words, Rick praised the ways being who God created me to be was more than enough. It made a difference.
Shannon: I “met” Carol Howard Merritt through Twitter. We became fast friends and I soon joined the UNCO leadership team in which Carol is a co-founder (UNCO is ecumenical “unconference” for pastors and church leaders). When I switched calls she drove to Baltimore after a long morning at church to preach at my installation. She told my new congregation, Ashland Presbyterian Church, about the work I was doing and thanked them for calling such a visionary leader. She preached about Miriam running ahead to keep watch of her brother Moses, of dancing with tambourine as the realization of God’s freedom was in their midst. She told them about the value of our friendship to her. It was a beautiful moment.
Our congregations need to know the wonderful work we are doing inside and outside of the church walls, within our greater denominations, or within or without the church at large. We don’t need medals or prizes, but it would be good for people to know that their pastor is doing good work in the world, that their pastor is well respected, and that their pastor cares for the larger world and community around them. That the gospel cannot be contained to a 10-12 minute sermon on Sunday morning, that the gospel looks much bigger and broader than what you “see” your pastor do.
Of course we are happy to do this and congregations are happy to hear it when they call a new pastor, but what about 3-5 years later? Or 10 years later? Are we still celebrating each other? Are we still spreading the joy of how my friend’s ministry halfway across the country inspires me and gives me hope?
What if we offered to do a pulpit exchange with a pastor in the presbytery we serve (if you can’t go broader than that)? What if you took a brief moment in that service to share with the congregation the good work their pastor is doing and the difference it made to the larger church and the world and, of course, to you.
We encourage you to comment below and answer: How has someone done this for you? Identify a person you could encourage in their congregation or someone who could do this for you. Set a date for pulpit supply (in which you are present) or for them to attend a session meeting. Tell us about it, exchange ideas below.
Melissa DeRosia graduated from Alma College and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with awards in the interpretation of Scripture and Christian life. Following the completion of a chaplain residency program with the spiritual needs of child and adolescent psychiatric patients, she received a call to serve as a pastor in rural Michigan. Currently, Melissa is the pastor and head of staff at Gates Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York where she lives with her husband Matt and two young daughters, Lillian and Norah. Passionate and dedicated to follow God’s call in the changing landscape of the church, she has served as Moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Huron and as an elected member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. Melissa is co-author of the book “The Girlfriends’ Clergy Companion: Surviving and Thriving in Ministry” published by the Alban Institute in 2011.
Shannon Meacham received a bachelor of arts in music with a minor in religious studies from University of Louisville and a master of divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. She served churches in Kentucky and New York before taking her current call as pastor and head of staff of Ashland Presbyterian Church in Hunt Valley, Maryland. She lives in the suburbs of Baltimore with her two wonderful children, Maggie and Gus along with their dog Lola. Shannon is a Host and organizer of UNCO and serves on the steering committee for The Baltimore Center. You can also find Shannon at her blog: pulpitshenanigans.com.