The Pastor’s Study – February 2020

I am, by nature, a worrier. I come from a long line of anxious people who are as accustomed to worrying as they are to breathing air. So when one of our professors in seminary tried to teach us that pastors were at their best when they interacted with church members in a crisis as “a non-anxious presence,” I really worried. 

In my experience as a layperson, I knew this to be true. The good pastors in my life guided me through some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. They acknowledged my grief, my fear, and my occasional loathing, but they didn’t absorb it or try to fix my problems. They sat with me, prayed with me, and reassured me that I was stronger than I thought and, more importantly, that God was bigger than my fears and would never abandon me, no matter how bad things looked. All of this was truly helpful to me, but the question I had in the middle of that seminary class was: Could I possibly do that too? I wasn’t certain that I could.

In Matthew 14:22-33, right after the disciples had just seen five thousand people fed with five loaves and two fish, their boat gets caught in a storm and they see Jesus walking on the water. The text tells us they were ‘terrified.’ Jesus told them “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” But then Jesus calls Peter out of the boat. I am 100% certain he was anything but “a non-anxious presence” at that moment! But he went, and to his amazement, he didn’t sink; at least, not at first. It was only when he got distracted by the force of the wind that his fear kicked in and he started going down into the water. Jesus (like the good pastor that he was) reassured Peter that his faith was stronger than he thought and that God was bigger than any storm. I like to think that Peter learned something that day and, consequently, grew from that experience. Maybe he wondered the same question I did: Could I possibly do that too?

One year ago, CPC’s financial picture didn’t look too good. After a couple of years of budget shortfalls, we were looking at a budget for 2019 with a proposed deficit of $50,000. While our budgeting process typically underestimates our income and overestimates our expenses, last year looked a lot like there were five thousand people to feed and all we had was five loaves and two fish. I confess, I was worried. While the congregation has a modest reserve and I wasn’t concerned that we’d be able to keep the lights on, I was concerned about the sustainability of our congregation in the longer term. 

I’m happy, maybe even overjoyed, to report to you that not only were we able to fully meet our expenses this year, but that we actually realized a substantial surplus which will be used to help relieve more than half of our debt accumulated over the past two years of deficit spending. It should be noted that all of our surplus came from investment gains, but also that even without investment income, we came within a few hundred dollars of fully funding our church’s expenses this year.It’s truly amazing and inspires both awe and, more importantly, faith.

My nature may be as a worrier, but I am also, by growth and grace, a person of faith. I come from a long line of faithful people who have learned to become a non-anxious presence by sitting with those who have doubts and fears, praying with them, and reassuring them that they are stronger than they thought and that our God is bigger than our problems. Thanks be to God and to you who, by your witness, continue the line of these faithful folk.