"I have something to say which will make you happy."
"Um...okay. What's up."
"Remember how you were so disturbed about the site of JFK Prep years ago when you went out there with the other pastor?"
"Yes. Actually, I'm still pretty disturbed" (chuckle)
"Well, it changed ownership a time or two, I heard. About a year ago, some Christian people bought it. They have a thrift store out there and a food pantry. And I'm not sure what else."
"Um...did you say a thrift store?" (doubtful tone)
"Yes, and Pastor Roy [who followed me at Jubilee AG] wants us to get involved and help them out, and John says..."
"Are they millionaires?" (rude interruption)
"Um, I doubt it."
"Well, it would take millions...maybe billions you know."
"Well, they are out there and have been for a while. I met them, and I think you might want to go see what they are doing." (undeterred tone)
"Um...okay. Want to come with me and introduce me to the new owners?"
"Sure. Gene [Honey's husband] has been doing some volunteering out there. Can we bring him too?"
We never did go out to St. Nazianz together. But one evening some time later, I stopped by Gene and Honey's house to drop off something from a mutual friend. Sitting at an their kitchen table chatting, I eventually said, "So, what is happening with the people out at St. Nazianz? I know we never did get out there, but I'd still like to do that." I'm not sure what else was said, but it was nothing unusual or strange or remarkable. I think we may have been talking about the food pantry. Pretty mundane stuff.
Then something strange happened. I can only describe it as Presence. A little stunned by something that felt pleasant but...heavy, I bowed my head, not knowing what else to do.
Awesome is a much overused word. But this was awesome. I was awed by...something or someone. It felt somewhat like a big bubble. I know that sounds amusing, but I'm trying to describe something indescribable. It was as though the three of us were suddenly and without warning enclosed. Enfolded in something powerful. I didn't want to move. Long moments passed--I'm not sure how long. Then, almost as suddenly as the whole experience began, it ended. Feeling a little stunned, and having a sudden realization that the others at the table might be wondering what was wrong with me, I slowly raised my head--to see my companions both slowly raising their heads too. After a bit, I said, "What was that? It felt like a bubble..." Gene nodded wordlessly and Honey said, "So, you felt that too?" We just sat, not sure what to do or say, and then we decided to pray. We prayed for the owners of the St. Nazianz property, Jim and Linda Frasch and I'm not sure else, but it didn't take long. The prayer was nothing special. It was, in fact, a bit awkward. I left shortly afterwards.
Several months later, I found myself feeling angry. It had been more than three years since I resigned my position as pastor at Jubilee. I had expected to find some place of ministry. Not necessarily as a pastor...but something. Many disappointments had followed. I had lost track of how many sincere people had told me, "There will be something. God uses willing vessels......"
I was (and am) working at a small financial firm in Plymouth. Among other things, I had obtained my insurance license and was hoping for growth as I focused on the senior citizen market. But on a small table in my office I had placed a little ceramic sheep. a present from a former parishioner. I meant it as a reminder that, whatever else I might do in life (and I've done lots of different things and worn lots of "hats") that at my core I know I am to be a "shepherd." It might be in an official way, or it might be informal, but I know my calling is to be a pastor. (There are many people in the Church with such gifts, and not all stand behind pulpits.)
I had tried to be patient. One night my patience was pretty much gone and I lay awake remembering things I didn't want to think about. Remembering hope deferred, people who had been part of a joyful journey but were no longer in my life, remembering the oasis idea, and remembering it made me more frustrated than ever. I pictured the joy of our special "Oasis Sunday" and I recalled the words of Isaiah 43.
I wasn't complaining aloud, since my husband was asleep next to me, but I was complaining pretty loudly inside. Something like this: "And another thing, God, what about the new thing from Isaiah 43, the thing I kept praying and preaching about...what about the water for thirsty people...what about...I give up. I just give up." I punched my pillow and turned over, intending to go back to sleep. "And I never want to read that chapter again!"
There seemed to be a reply. It was one of those "loud" things that makes no sound. The reply was something I can't share right now. But it shut me up with surprise.
The next day, because of an invitation for the two of us from one of her family members, Honey and I attended one session of a retreat. During the drive to the retreat location, I shared ust a bit of my late night pondering. I left out plenty, but I did mention that, once again, the passage from Isaiah had been much in my thoughts.
The worship band that was leading at the retreat was wonderful, and I was enjoying participating with the singing and the worship in a way I had not been able to do for some time. Suddenly the keyboard player, who I later learned was named Sarah, stopped. She looked directly at me. She began to quote a passage of scripture. Can you guess which one?
“Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I couldn't help it. I think I made a little face, and I think Sarah saw me, because she continued, saying something like this, "Yes, I am speaking to you. You are wondering if you are finished, but you are not. You are about to enter a new season of ministry, a season of favor. You will need help." She emailed me a bit more a few days later. I don't want to share everything at this point, and I'm pretty wary of "words from God." But to say I was flabbergasted would be putting it mildly.
Hearing I was a minister, someone introduced me to a woman attending the retreat who they called, "Pastor Kris." A little conversation revealed that Kris was the main coordinator at the St. Nazianz thrift store, living there in one of the remodeled apartments (in the same building as Jim and Linda Frasch.) We talked a little about Jim and Linda and their ministry endeavors in other areas of Wisconsin. Kris had been part of their ministry team for some time.
She told me there was a man holding Saturday night church services in the former JFK Prep School gym. I told her maybe I'd show up sometime.
And I went home with no idea what to do next.