Nine Years

April 1, 2001 was a Sunday. I woke up in a spare bedroom in Patty’s parents’ house (where I would live until my family joined me in mid-June), took a shower, and went to work on my first day as the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Since it was April Fool’s Day I thought, “Let’s take this congregation’s sense of humor out for a spin.” When I called the children forward, I put on a clown’s nose and talked about being fools for Christ. People reacted well! It’s been a great ride since.

I wish I could say the same for the congregation I left — my home congregation, in Wilmington, Delaware, in which I was baptized and confirmed and formed in the faith for the first couple of decades of my life; where I discerned the Spirit’s call to become a pastor; and where I served for nearly a decade as pastor.

The pastor who followed me nearly destroyed the place. The bishop’s office didn’t intervene, despite repeated requests. Courageous congregational leaders worked out a resignation process for the pastor on their own. The pastor responded by sending out a letter outlining what he saw to be “failings” of the Lutheran church, and announcing that he was becoming a Roman Catholic layman. (A close reading of his letter revealed that every one of the “failings” he identified pre-dated his own decision to be ordained in said Lutheran church.)

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

And I’m not taking any of this personally, am I?

Hmmm. Seems to me there’s something in that prayer we pray every now and then; something like, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive…”

After more than 56 years of formation in the faith, and nearly 31 years as a pastor of the Church, and exactly nine years as pastor of this particular congregation, I fell like I’m still a beginner.

All I can do, each day, is to follow Luther’s teaching to return to my baptism (return = repentance), and to ask for forgiveness, again, for this day, and for the ability to more closely follow Jesus.

And so this ends up being a pretty good meditation for April 1, 2010 — which is Maundy Thursday.

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!