Imagine a rubber raft large enough to accommodate a dozen or more persons floating down a wide river…lazily at first, but then the current quickens and soon the sound of rapids fills the air. As the raft approaches the rushing rapids, everyone takes their seats, grips the hand-holds, and prepares to hang on for dear life. Hoops and hollers emanate from the raft…it’s hard to tell which are shouts of excitement and which are shrieks of fear. It doesn’t matter; everyone is having a jolly good time, and as the raft shoots out the bottom of the rapids into calmer waters, cheers and high-fives break out all around. There is a palpable sense of camaraderie among the rafters—they have navigated an adventure together that was both exciting and fearful. It’s a shared experience rather than a solitary experience. A day of rafting can quickly build a lot of community!
River rafting may be analogous to the beginning of a new pastorate. The calling of a new pastor by a congregation is an invitation for a new person to join those already on the raft (the congregation). A new pastor and family then need to find their place on the raft, and the congregation needs to make “seating adjustments” to accommodate the newcomers. “Seating adjustments” is a way of talking about how congregations make room for a new pastor and his/her family, and make them feel welcome, wanted, and included. (Of course this can be true of any newcomer, not only pastors.) Conversely, for the new pastor and family, it’s a way of talking about recognizing and accepting the hospitality of the congregation that is making room for them, and also making their own adjustments to the people, culture, and priorities of the congregation.
Whether a new pastor boards the raft while a congregation is “running rapids,” or during a season marked more by tranquility, the need for seating adjustments is the same. An incoming pastor has a certain niche already spelled out and prescribed in the congregation’s job description for the pastor. But every pastor’s personality is different, as are their gifts, style of preaching, and ways of doing things. If the adjustments go well, however, everyone in the raft will float on down the river—a pilgrimage of life through another section of the river with congregants and pastor(s) caring for each other as the river flows on towards the River of Life in Revelation 22.
But what happens when a pastor gets off the raft—through retirement, transfer to another ministry calling, or in some cases because of death—and transitions to another “stream,” or another “river?” Seating adjustments again need to be made. Change almost always calls for adjustments, regardless of what arena of life it’s in. Even when an interim pastor joins the raft, some alterations of familiar patterns and responsibilities will no doubt be called for. This is all to be expected, of course. And COVID-19 is the pickle that has forced adjustments out of all of us!
Still, “Our lives flow on” (yours and ours) “in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. We catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake our inmost calm while to that Rock we’re clinging. Since Love is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can we keep from singing?” (HWB 580, My Life Flows On)
Weavers has been a good raft for Janine and I. Thank you for sharing your raft with us for the past decade, and for making seating adjustments that gave us a sense of belonging. Leaving this raft fills us with mixed emotions; I look forward to slowing down a bit (that sounds better than retirement!), but we will miss the rest of you river rafters! But let’s all stay on the journey of life, whether on land or water, and keep on singing…until we join that great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1. Blessings!
Phil Kanagy, pastor