Posted in Moments of grace

A month of phone calls

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

I’ve spent more time in the phone in the past month than I have in years.

Pastoral ministry to a “sheltering-in-place” congregation has been an interesting experience. Generally, over the course of a month, I would see and talk with most of the members of the congregation in worship, bible classes, meetings, nursing visits and visits to those sick or recovering at home or in the hospital. But when everyone, including myself, stays home for six weeks, that whole dynamic of church life is gone.

So I blocked out a few hours of time each day and called just about everyone who affiliates with our congregation, about two hundred families, over the past month. Here are some things I learned in the process.

  • Everyone was doing well! Yes, some had been sick or been recovering from a surgery, but no one had contracted the CoVid-19 virus. Our congregation has been blessed and spared so far.
  • Folks are notorious for not reporting new phone numbers, email addresses and even changes of address. I had to do a little detective work to find some folks, but now our records are up to date.
  • Many were thankful for the chance to chat with someone. The conversation always lasted longer than I expected. And more often than not, all I had to do was listen. For many, the church fills an important social as well as spiritual role in their lives, and they were thankful for a time to connect.
  • More than a few finally dipped a toe into 21st century technology. Some watched their first YouTube video ever when we uploaded holy week worship services. Others dusted off long neglected Facebook accounts to watch livestreams. A few learned how to contribute to the church online. A number finally began to read the weekly email I’ve been sending out for years. A good number learned how to be a part of a bible class via video conferencing.
  • I learned that for the most part, I have a positive relationship with the church family. Most wanted to know how I was holding up. They were glad to hear that I and my family are doing just fine. The majority also expressed their gratitude that I had delayed my retirement for another year.
  • With each call, I asked what they needed and what they needed help with. This first time through, no one had any immediate needs. Most wanted to help someone else. We’ve been very, very blessed.

So now I’m going through the list a second time. It’s been a month, and we’ve got new joys and sorrows, blessings and needs to share!

Posted in pastor

The late Friday afternoon phone message

Photo by Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash

It happens a lot. When I get to my study at church on Monday morning, I find that someone left me a message late on Friday afternoon, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:55 pm. Sometimes the message is important: someone is in the hospital or on the way to the emergency room. Sometimes it’s not urgent at all. A question about the church or even the bible (I really like those questions, but they’re rarely posed).

The thing is, I take Friday off. I’ve taken Friday as my day off for about thirty years. Some pastors take Mondays off. Fridays have always worked out better for me. I like to get a jump on the week on Mondays, and have a buffer at the end of the week before Sunday’s worship and preaching. Saturdays are a wild card day. I may spend a little time at church, or I may have a few visits to make that day. On Sundays, I’ve got plenty to think about and get ready for. My office administrator is there till 1:00 pm on Friday. So if wait until late Friday afternoon to call and leave a message, it may not be heard until Monday morning.

One day I realized that a late Friday message may be intentional. You know no one will answer the phone. You know you’ll have to leave a message. You won’t have to talk to an actual person. You can dump whatever you want, and it’s off your plate and on to theirs. Just like that. I advertise my cell phone and email, and have a broad social media presence, so I know you can get a hold of me in an emergency. But you chose to leave a message on the church phone when no one was around.

I will admit that there have been times when I’ve called someone and prayed that I get the answering machine. That way I could say that I called, but I wouldn’t actually have to talk to the person. Why? Sometimes you just don’t want to have the conversation. Maybe I’ve put off talking to them for too long or I don’t think they really want to hear from me or I just don’t really want to talk to them. But I need to, I’m supposed to and I make the call. But it’s so nice when you can just leave a message.

So I get it. You put it off all week and squeezed it in on a Friday afternoon. Or you waited till late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve to call and ask when services were. Or you were in a hurry and didn’t even identify yourself so I don’t even know who called.

Call me back, OK?

Posted in Life, listening, Ministry

A week on the phone

Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

I just spent a week without (and greatly appreciating!) my office manager and assistant. She took a well deserved vacation with her husband, and will be back tomorrow. (God is good — all the time!)

That meant that I couldn’t just ignore the phone when it rang last week. If you called, that was my voice who answered, “Shepherd of the Coast Lutheran Church — this is Pastor Douthwaite.” Here are some of the responses I heard last week:

“Oh. <long pause> Nicole must not be there.”
In a thick Indian accent: “Thank you very much.” Click <hang up>
“Call this number immediately, or you will face arrest and imprisonment by the IRS for tax evasion…”
“Oh, hi Pastor. Are you going to be in the office today?” <seriously?>
“Do you have chronic back pain…?”
“Congratulations, you have just won…” Click. <I hung up.>
“Oh, hi. You’re just the person I need to talk to.”
“Hi, I’m from the Best-Ever-Media company. We’d like to send you a 37 volume DVD series to inspire your youth to more vibrant faith…” Click. <I hung up.>
“I sent you an email. Did you get it?”
“Stay on the line for important information about…” Click. <I hung up.>
“Hi. I scheduled a meeting, but don’t know if any space is available.”
“I saw you have a food pantry today.” Me: “No, I’m sorry, that’s the church next door.”

I never know what the voice on the other end is going to say. However, it just amazes me that 90% of the phone calls we receive are irrelevant to our ministry. So for a couple of hundred bucks a month, we maintain phone lines for no good reason at all!

I cut off our landline about five years ago. Neither my wife or I were making any outgoing calls. All of the inbound calls were telemarketers, surveys, robocalls and wrong numbers. The provider representative I talked with couldn’t understand why I wanted to disconnect.

I wonder if God gets any prayers like this…

Posted in Grace, Life, Ministry

I was just thinking about you

Last night I had a free half-hour before my small group met, so I got to make a few phone calls to see how some folks were doing. During the first call, the person said, “I was just thinking about you. In fact, I was going to call you tomorrow.” I’ve found that to be the case too many times to be a coincidence. Somehow God brings to mind just the right person at the right time.

Anyway, they were going to call me with the idea to have our congregation write our own Advent devotional booklet this fall. Not necessarily a new idea, but a new idea for us. It’s a project I’ve sometimes dreamt about, but never implemented. You don’t know how nice it is to hear someone say, “I’d like to organize it.” All I need to do is give her a list of twenty-seven Bible verses, organized around an Advent theme, and she’ll do the rest: enlist writers, gather devotions, and get the collection to our office for duplication and distribution. Pretty cool.

Of course, that means I have to start thinking about Advent, which begins November 28 this year. I’ve found that advance planning sometimes makes you feel like a time of year is already upon you when it really isn’t. Kind of like a time warp. I have to remind myself it’s only September. Whew. But not too early to plan for the busy month of December.

So if you’re a Shepherd of the Coast reader, you read it here first. You’ll have a chance to share a little of your Advent and Christmas thoughts to help others zero in on that time of the church year. Last year we introduced Advent Conspiracy, and challenged ourselves to worship fully, spend less, give more and love fully, all gifts from God. I think we’ll take that to the next level in some way so that Christmas can continue to change the world.