I am packing for a trip back to Chicago and the annual Covenant Midwinter Conference. My attendance has been, at best, spotty over the past several years due to sabbatical travel last year and budget the year before. It's really a pilgrimage of sorts for Covenant pastors from around the country and world. We camp out in a huge hotel and linger in hallways catching up with old colleagues, friends and professors (who can be friends as well!).
It's a time for marking progress or regress, success or failure, joys and losses. Midwinter has been a part of my life since childhood, since my dad was a Covenant pastor. I remember Midwinters in St. Paul, Minnesota and house-guests who stayed with us the whole week, only getting their lunch at the church. It was a different day then.
Some of my colleagues have moved into administrative roles, using their accumulated professional skills as elders and advisors. Others are marking their 2nd and 3rd decade in the same church and wondering about legacy. Some have stayed in the same region of the country while others have crisscrossed the USA if not the world.
"How are things going in ____________?" will be the ubiquitous question asked over and over again. I used to answer that with numbers (attendance, membership, budget, staff) or programs (outreach, mission, youth) but now I'm not quite sure what markers to use other than "It's where I belong and fit for now."
Belonging has always been one of those evasive words for me, being a pastor's kid who grew up in two different parsonages in two different states. I have no doubt that my dad obeyed God's call in his life. As I grew older he would narrate how he discerned God's call to leave a place, go to a place or stay in a place. It was never about geography (though I doubt if he could ever imagine God wanting him on the West Coast), climate, size of church or paycheck. It was about diving in and serving a church until it was time to move.
Belonging also gets very local with people. With what groups and persons to you find yourself belong? Does it always stay parallel to your age cohort? In this culture and time I see very narrow lines of belonging: men's groups, women's groups, young mom's groups, high adventure groups. And while not bad, they are so homogenous.
This past week I visited with an 80+ woman and a couple who have been married close to 60 years. I asked both the woman and the couple what they were learning at this point in life and their responses were priceless. Their responses gave me hope and courage to lean ahead.