On occasion, people will ask me if I miss serving as a priest in a faith community. The answer is absolutely yes. Walking with one community through the rhythms and seasons of the liturgical year and walking pastorally with folks through the rhythms and seasons of their lives are the two things I miss the most.
I was a Teaching Assistant for the Pastoral Theologian in seminary. Marriage work was his passion and, under his tutelage, this area of pastoral ministry became a particular interest of mine as well.
When I began serving in a congregation, I myself was newly married and found myself surrounded by peers in the same phase of life. I found myself doing a substantial amount of marriage work. Based on the work I did with my seminary professor, I developed a seven session program for couples prior to their marriage and a check-up once every three months for the first year of marriage. Follow-up meetings were negotiable after that. Still to this day I have couples that I meet with multiple years into their marriage.
During this time, my wife and I also developed a retreat for couples (which has been wonderful to offer in a number of faith communities in ECMN!).
Thirty years ago today, my camp friend Staci Hubbard and I, surrounded by family, camp family and friends, stood in the chapel at Camp Cross and made a commitment to each other and to God. Following in the footsteps of her mother, as we walked out of the chapel, she asked me to no longer call her by her first name. “Anyone can call me by my name, but only you can call me…”; and yes, there are a whole host of affectionate names she goes by, many of which have become quite popular with our family, friends, and even the last congregation I served.
We often tell folks that we were the best of camp friends who “grew up together.” And thirty years later that is still the foundation of our relationship. Meeting in the fun, safe, loving, Christ-centered environment of camp made us immediately at ease and comfortable with each other. We quickly became camp friends, then best friends, sharing without hesitation the fullness of our thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams. Through the sharing of our stories, and now this our own story we continued to grow and mature both as individuals and as a couple.
I always tell couples that I am blessed to walk with, that there is no greater gift than the gift of love. The blessing and privilege of being able to freely and fully give and receive love from another defies description. Yes, it takes commitment, attention, intention, patience and lots of humor. Yet to walk side by side with another encouraging, supporting, caring for them as they continue to grow into the person God created them to be is, in my estimation, the holiest of journeys.