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Rites of Passage

25October2011

This past week as one of the oldest members of my congregation ended up in the hospital with heart failure (90 years old!) Seeing him there made me  remember something from my early days in the parish.  Having been called to a congregation that has suffered significant conflict over its 90+ years of ministry, I entered the call treading lightly, looking, listening and simply being present.  My greatest concern was one of trust, the delicate, fragile, tenuous state of any relationship worth having.  How long would it take for them to “trust” that I would be there for them?   That I would love them?  That I would stick around? That I would be there for them in the good times and in the bad?  I had a number in my mind. . . I’m not sure when it actually happened except that I believe it had something to do with the enormous, green John Deere combine.

You see, I grew up in the suburbs of a medium sized city.  The only experience I had with farming was going to the orchard to pick apples.  That’s not even close to the 180+ acres of land that my friend Kenny has farmed his entire life.  Now his son does the work but that land is still a part of Kenny’s blood.  It’s his lifeline.  He still jumps on his gator and zips around the farm checking on things every day.  To not be a part of the land each day would be to deny a vital part of who he is . . .

So back to the combine.

Kenny invited me in the fall to come out to the farm and ride the combine while he brought in the corn (they sell corn to the popcorn makers in Ohio).  I missed that opportunity for whatever reason.  Then he invited me out when the wheat had to be brought in.  I must have been busy doing something else that week and didn’t make it.  When he invited me out for the soybean harvest it finally hit me!  I’m a little slow sometimes.  I didn’t quite grasp what was at stake here.  So with an inkling that something important was about to happen, out I went with my 5 year old son and his cousin to ride the combine during soybean harvest.

From that moment on Kenny and I had a new relationship.  From that moment on, I was “in.”  It was never spoken aloud but I knew something important had happened.  It was a rite of passage for the pastor to be accepted as part of the family of faith.  It was the grounding of a deeper relationship between pastor and people.  And everyone knew that I had been out there to ride the John Deere.

Now when I sit with Kenny and his wife at their kitchen table, because they cannot make it to church very often, I know he remembers that day just like I do.  When I bring the sacrament to them he gets tears in his eyes because he misses his church family.  When I visited him in the hospital he said, “There’s no one like you.”  Not because I’m so special but because we are family.

I love you too, Kenny.

ACL@CCD

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