Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Peter

For the past year and one half I've had a little part-time job keeping the books for a downtown Rochester church, an old mainline church once great in the city but now surrounded by rundown housing. That's where I met Peter, the pastor. Today marked the church's farewell to Peter, who, after sixteen years in Rochester, will soon begin to serve a larger church in the south. The farewell was bittersweet.

Great leaders are few and far between, as are great pastors. In my view, being a "great" pastor means being true to the faith - you know, really taking the Jesus of the synoptic gospels seriously, loving your neighbor no matter what he or she looks like, or does. It doesn't have much to do with the grandeur of the church, or the size of the congregation. Peter has been true to the faith, and the church shows the fruits of his ministry.

Sixteen years ago this church was rich in funds but in the midst of crisis, unable to agree on how to deal with demographic changes happening rapidly around it, unable to see how its mission applied to these new circumstances. Today, it's a very different place, but it's a place with a mission. It may be the place that Peter built, although I've not been around to see the process.

Saying "goodbye" to Peter last Sunday was a thankful group comprised of mostly elderly caucasians, a much younger group of Burmese refugees (two different "tribes"), a significant number of gay and lesbian couples and singles, and other persons of several colors. Everyone got along, to some extent because they know it's their responsibility to get along. They have heard Peter, who gets along with all of them - in fact, he "ministers" to all of them. He got a lot of hugs, and in his little speech Peter thanked the church for helping his children be open to everyone.

Peter will soon be far away and fully involved in the difficult task of being accepted in a new church. Will his Rochester church be able to replace his leadership? Will his new church be able to live with his straightforward gospel? These are the kind of questions that make life so interesting.

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