Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Inredible Shrinking Future

Today I attended a presentation on the Stephen Ministries, which is a lay ministry to parishioners with pastoral needs. Leaders attend a weeklong training in St. Louis and then meet with care receivers according to structured guidelines. In response to a really excellent talk by a woman from a neighboring church, came a feeling of happy excitement that hit a wall of shrinking future, followed by a quick process of grief.

Excitement: how stimulating sitting in the sanctuary looking at the speaker in front of big windows not quite bright enough to bother my cataracts, to feel my brain engaging, drawing on long training and experience in pastoral counseling. How wonderful to imagine a week in St. Louis(seriously, I could visit my 90-year-old uncle!) and then returning to do something I was very very good at. Of course I might be a bit overqualified but perhaps could advance to leadership and train others! Be like that speaker lady! Little fantasy bubbles took shape and hovered overhead. Other women in the group chimed in their experiences with Stephen Ministries in former churches: interesting!

I commonly react this way in learning situations--and at conferences it always led to wasting money on a lot of books I would never read, because without follow through the energy will dissipate. And as the future shrinks before us, follow through evaporates.

Of course I can't undertake a Stephen Ministry! I might get as far as St. Louis, but then I would throw my back out. Fifty hours of training in a week? I don't think so! Over the course of a recent weekend retreat, many naps were required! Make a weekly commitment to benefit a care receiver? I can barely haul myself to a weekly church service without the use of force. One can no longer take seriously these bouts of inspiration.

Yes, my get-up-and-go got up and went as the saying goes. And not only mine. I asked the group, "Didn't there used to be a group of younger women meeting." Answers emerged, reports of specific groups that could not sustain themselves. Book groups, prayer groups, study groups have emerged only to drift apart after a few meetings or a few months. So our little EWC group--and it was little, not very many of even our regular attendees showed up for a really excellent presentation--agreed a Stephen Ministry would never get going at St. Alban's. This is the kind of inertia that used to be my job to work against, and now I'm too old to inspire and motivate.

So then I had my moment of grief. When I think of all the prayer groups, healing ministries, choir rehearsals, Bible study groups Denny and I used to do... even so recently as five years ago I was still going to one in Amherst. Even last year I still attended a weekly 3-hour study group. I contained these mood swings quietly, but it seemed for a moment the future of Christianity was in danger.

Calm down, God will raise Christians from the rocks I supposed (a Stephen Ministry at our speaker's church, for example). All I can really know is my own future is definitely a thing of the past.

My lowest thought walking through the door from the sanctuary into the narthex was that all my experience and wisdom will soon be dust.

I had my hat on to go but saw a few unwashed coffee cups sitting on the counter. Well, if I can't start a Stephen Ministry I can at least wash up a few mugs in the church kitchenette. I walked around the little room with my hat on, putting away the china. The parable of the widow's mite means more and more as time goes by.

A friend walked home with me, and together we admired the tulips in my front yard. She told me about all the deer she used to see in her yard back in New Jersey. You can't even eat them because they nibble pesticided roots no doubt rendering their venison toxic. I leaned on the newly restored porch railing and it wobbled. Oh well.

"How was the presentation!" asked my son, as I came indoors. "Excellent!" I chirped.

After practicing piano, I'm now watching a Red Sox game with grandson McGregor while we wait for son's bread to finish baking. To paraphrase Saul Bellow, man is born to be orphaned and to leave orphans behind him; but in the meantime cherish the things you can "still" enjoy.


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