I remember 2011 as a burnishing year, like nothing I’ve ever endured before. Not even the death of my only brother could compare. That was a much easier yoke to carry.
Trial, strife, discord, anger, venom, and yes, even violence…all aimed at me, the pastor. And it all came as a result of the realization that if I didn’t act firmly and with unwavering concern according to my office and vow, the efforts of a few would be the spiritual undoing of the flock the Lord had entrusted to my care.
I am no fool. Doing what needed to be done meant stirring up the Devil, and he’s a formidable foe. I knew that by stepping up to set a straight way forward – that by taking the effort from the shadows of reconciliatory discussion into the open fields of repentance and a resolute requiring of an end to the ungodliness – I knew that lines would be drawn, sides would be taken, that I would be accused, that lies would be told, that my family would be attacked, my wife and children would suffer, that my name and reputation would forever be tarnished in various levels of the synod as well as the surrounding parishes that would eventually receive the fallout from the devastation, and that I would even be abandoned by those who knew what was at stake and yet were too fearful to engage.
And it happened this way.
But here I am. It’s 2016 and I’m still standing. It was a long and tough road, but I can say that the storm has passed. The devastation has made for fertile soil and the horizons before us are good; not easy, but good.
It doesn’t always end this way for some pastors. And there’s never a single storm in the life of a parish. And yet, one thing remains – God is good. His will for the faithful is blameless and upright. He will never leave them nor forsake them. He is with them on the battlefield. He is near to them in the midst of the cannon haze. He is there to both feed them and dress their wounds by Word and Sacrament. The banner of His cross leads the way and the badge of His name given in Holy Baptism adorns the uniform of every man, woman, and child enlisted.
One morning in 2011, having finally resolved to begin what some in the parish now refer to as “the exorcism,” just before leaving for the day’s visits, I went into the nave and knelt before the Lord’s altar. It quickly became a nervous and tearful plea – one which actually drew me past the communion rail to the very foot of the altar where I sat and leaned against the image of Christ, the Lamb. I remember clutching that frontal parament and not wanting to let go. After some time, I finally arose and rather than heading off to make visitations just yet, I returned to my office and tapped out the following poem on my computer.
I’m sharing this as something born of excruciating foreknowledge, and yet as encouragement to other pastors, nay, Christians who have already endured a significant tempest or are just now discovering the cratered landscape between the church militant and the church triumphant.
Know that God is with you. You are never alone.
I Do Not Want To Be Alone
I do not want to be alone.
I want to be with you.
For there are many things that you
Will need to see me through.
I’d like for you to take my hand
When dark my days, and then
I’d most prefer your warm embrace
To give the strength of ten.
I’ll ask of you, a watchful eye
To keenly be aware
Of shelter just beyond the field
And safely take me there.
I’ll make another solemn bid,
That you would be my stay,
My brawny shield of gilded hope
Protecting in the fray.
Another I would then propose
My armor, you would be
To hedge against the fiery darts
Hurled by the enemy.
I’ll make request of you, my love,
A sword to clad my hand,
A blade of sturdy steel and might
‘Gainst all it will withstand.
And by your hand, the strength is giv’n
To raise my sword to sky
In challenge of the bitter foes
Who march in triumph nigh.
Give fervor to my weary legs
That I may take the field
Unwilling to give up the fight
And thus to never yield.
And when the war is finally o’er,
And pyres of anger cease,
I ask that you would be the steed
To carry me to peace.
Behold, I must not be alone.
I need to be with you.
As you can see, so many things
You’ll need to see me through.