Posted in people

In the right place at the right time

When I got done reading the biblical book of Esther a few months ago, I asked myself the question, “What people has God strategically put into my life?” Esther found herself in just the right place at just the right time to save her people. It wasn’t a coincidence. It was a God thing. Who else has been in the right place at the right time for me?

I’m stretching my memory here, but the first person that shows up on my radar is my eighth grade Algebra teacher, Mrs. Flaig. She was the first teacher who awakened my love for math and recognized my aptitude for that subject. She was tough but one of my favorite teachers ever. Mrs. Miller was like that, too. She taught my high school Algebra 2 and Calculus classes, always emphasizing “good mathematics!”

Then there are those who brought me along musically. Bonnie Strang taught me to play the trumpet in elementary through high school. My friend Gary Lefkowitz taught me to play guitar in college. An organist and choir director, Diane Allwein, let me play all kinds of sacred music on the trumpet at Luther Memorial Church in Tinton Falls, NJ, and gave me my first real experience in choral music. Rev. Richard Resch greatly expanded both my trumpet and choral music experiences while at the seminary.

A few pastors were in the right place at the right time, too. Pastor Don Sallach who told me at age thirteen, “You should think about being a pastor.” I never did, though, til I was twenty-six. Pastor Don Biggs in New Jersey who let me get very involved with music and youth work when I was new to the his church. Pastor Paul Harris, then a vicar in Austin, TX, who directed me towards seminary study. Pastor Dave Mulder, president of the New England District, ordained me and installed me at my first parish in Coventry, CT. He was a source of amazing encouragement in my first few years of ministry.

To this day, I still love math, music and ministry, no doubt because God had placed many of these people in my life “for such a time as this!”

Posted in people

“Hey, I like your glasses!”

Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I’ve been in the process of having my cataracts taken care of. I started the process about a week before Christmas. Except for a few days here and there, I had to stop wearing my contact lenses. Though they are so thin I can’t even tell they are in my eyes, they can affect the measurements which determine what implants I need. So, I’ve been wearing my glasses for last month.

That first Sunday, the comments didn’t surprise me. Nor did they seem out of place on Christmas Eve. A couple of weeks ago, people returned from holiday travel, so they got their first view of me in glasses. But this past Sunday, four weeks into the process, I was still getting the comment, “Hey, I like your glasses!” My response was a little different, though. This time I said, “No you don’t. You like my frames!” You see, I took the lens out of the right side of my glasses since that eye sees so nicely with its new implant. I only needed the left lens until tomorrow’s procedure.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why didn’t you notice my glasses before?” Did they really not notice? Not remember? Not pay attention? Could be any or all of those. Most of us are poor eyewitnesses. Asked to describe a person, would you fail to mention he or she was wearing glasses?

It’s so easy to be distracted or preoccupied, and miss a whole bunch of stuff going on around you. I like to go places and intentionally watch people, noting what I observe about them and what seems odd or out of place. I work hard to be situationally aware of who is around me, what they are doing and listen to what they’re saying. Such awareness is a good way to be safe in this world. It’s a good way to notice how you might help someone. I get to enjoy the incredibly diverse population God has created.

Most of the time, no one notices I’m watching. They’re absorbed in their phone or their own little world. So I can take pictures, eavesdrop on conversation, catch a pin or password, and learn their name, what they do and where they’re from. I think it’s fun to do that.

Sometimes though, I notice that someone is watching me

I wonder if they noticed I was wearing glasses. And next week, will they notice that I’m not?

Posted in people

Hey, I know you…

You know what it’s like at the doctor’s office. You wait. At my ophthalmologist’s office, there are numerous waiting rooms. After I check in, I sit in the main waiting room. When they call my name, I go back and after a few drops in my eyes, I go to another waiting room. After I saw the doctor, I still needed to see the surgical coordinator, so I was left in yet a third waiting room. At least you feel like you are getting somewhere when they keep moving you around.

Anyway, when it’s my turn, a nice tech or nurse calls, “William,” “Mr. William” (cause we’re in the south), or “Mr. Douthwaite” (or some attempted pronunciation of my last name – because they grew up in the north.) On my most recent visit, I was the last person left in waiting room number three. So I knew I would be next. My right eye was doing great, but remember, it had been corrected for reading. I took my contact lens out of my left eye so they could check the pressure. My left eye is very nearsighted. So I could kind of see, but not really. I could see enough to watch what was on the TV: “Fixer Upper.” In fact, every time I have been to this eye doctor, even at different offices, Chip and Joanna are renovating houses in every waiting room.

No problem. I like that show. Kind of watching, kind of listening, I noticed someone at the door, but they said, “Pastor.” I’m sure I looked surprised, since no one has used my title on previous visits. Sure enough, with a little squint, I recognized someone from church. She had been on vacation when I had come in the last time, so I didn’t even know she worked there. But I’m glad she did! Everyone there had been very nice and done a great job, but it was extra nice to sit down with someone I knew.

I love running into folks I know out in the community. Nurses at the hospital, service reps when I take my car in for service, tellers at the bank, cashiers in the store, servers at the drive-thru window, staff in a big box store or waitresses at the restaurant, staff at funeral homes, teachers in the school and baristas at the coffee shop. I’m grateful for all the people I’ve gotten to know over the years. Makes a large and growing community seem smaller and more personal.

Posted in people, Travel

A few interesting people in a few interesting places

I quickly took this picture in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. I’m not sure who this man was or what religious tradition he follows, but I was amused to see him focused on his smart phone, just like I could be in any given moment.

Guarding a door at the Dome of the Rock

A little girl wandering around on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Her family is close by. She has the same sippy cup as my grandchildren.

Priest saying mass for a small group of worshipers at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. I believe he was speaking Spanish.

Great beret, sippers and tote bag.

An older Hasidic man browsing at Mehane Yehuda market.

Posted in people, preaching

The blessing of being dispensable

In the sermon this morning, I talked a little about being “indispensable.” It came up in the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he writes, “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).

Who is indispensable in the life of the church? One might be tempted to say, “the pastor.” I would disagree. I am blessed to have a number of retired pastors worshiping with our congregation. I asked them, “When you retired, did they shut the doors of the church? Did the ministry fold?” Of course not. That church called another pastor. The ministry continued. Rather than being indispensable, we pastors are quite replaceable.

I think this is an important part of longevity in the ministry. The church was here before me. It will be here when I’m gone. What happens when you think of yourself as disposable, dispensable and replaceable? All kinds of good things!

First, you value God and other people much more. As your importance decreases, theirs increases. God’s eternal. He’s always around. He’s the one you want to depend on.

And other people? They are the reason you get to be a pastor. They are the ones you’ve been called to shepherd. They are the ones who need to hear the voice of their shepherd. And you are the one called to preach the word. You wouldn’t have a job without them. I so enjoy preaching, teaching and administering the sacraments. But I wouldn’t get to do any of it were it not for our Lord’s sacrificial love for his people.

Second, you let others shine. You are not the main event. They are. They reach many more people than I ever will. I spend most of my time with those who believe, who are already saved. But the congregation is out there in the world, where they live and where they work. They are out there on the front lines, living out their faith. They know, talk to and witness to people I will never meet. I may help equip them for that task, but they are the ones who actually engage in it.

Finally, you marvel at the work of his hands. You appreciate all those who come to listen week after week. You thank God for all those who daily pray for you. You are grateful for those who make it possible for you to do what you do. And you are motivated to do your best – for their sake. They need to hear,; you get to preach. Actually, you need to preach. It’s a part of who you are. But you couldn’t do it without them. They are indispensable.

Posted in people

Just like them

Photo by Ravi Patel on Unsplash

I had a few hours to wait for some service to be done on my car, so walked up U.S. from Coggin Honda in St. Augustine to Panera Bread in Cobblestone Village. It was a really nice morning, so I didn’t mind the walk at all. I was wearing a pair of jeans, a hoodie, some old sneakers, my backpack containing some things to read and work on when I got to my coffee destination.

On the way I passed a number of people walking and riding bikes. After a few nods and “Hi’s” I realized that I looked just like them. You wouldn’t think that would be a revelation. But when I am driving along that same stretch of road, my mind immediately assigns the label “homeless” to these folks. Now on foot, I wondered, “I wonder what label they’re putting on me?”

Not my name. Not my profession. Not someone having their car serviced. Not someone on their way for coffee. They know nothing about where I live, my relationships, my faith, or how healthy I am.

I don’t know that about them, either. That’s a good reminder when I begin to assume they don’t have a home, don’t have a job, and haven’t had a meal. Or when I characterize them as not having relationships, education or ambition. It doesn’t take much to visually characterize someone in a negative way. It doesn’t take much at all.

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like the way my mind immediately sizes someone up, usually in a disparaging way. I don’t even know where that tendency comes from. Where did I learn that?

It’s good to walk around in jeans and a t-shirt, being seen – but not known. It disciplines my heart and mind so that I am not so quick to draw conclusions. It clears my head of shallow assumptions. It helps me notice rather than look through those around me. It teaches me humility, kindness and grace. Cause when it comes down to it, I am just like them.