Te Deum and The Renfro Valley Gatherin’

This post is different from my normal goofy, tongue-in-cheek stuff. I just thought you should know.

Sundays for me were a mixture of anticipation baptized in dread, inspiration wrapped in insecurity, and anxiety that has a life of its own. I didn’t look forward to Sundays at all, and I was the pastor.

I was like that story about the mom who woke her son.

“Honey, get up.”

“I’m not going to church,” her son mumbled.

“Please get up, you’re gonna be late,” she said a little louder.

“Mother, I don’t want to go! I don’t like going to that church!” the son said loudly and covered his head with a blanket.

“You have to go! The people aren’t going to understand if their pastor doesn’t show up.”

My favorite time of the week was Sunday night after church. I had seven whole days before I would have go through it again.

The preaching part was easy. I’ve never been afraid of getting up in front of groups large or small. Singing and playing the piano was also easy. I’d performed in front of thousands in the past. However, it was actually being close to people that was my problem.

Trying to be helpful, a fellow pastor gave me a book called, “They Smell Like Sheep,” that described a shepherd’s love for his people. I never read it.

Once during a meeting with a group of pastors, someone mentioned another colleague who had recently retired. When asked if he was enjoying retirement, the former pastor said, “I miss the burden of the people.” I thought he was crazy.

I remember a conversation with a talented pastor and friend who told me, “If I could just visit my people and preach I’d be the happiest man in the world.” He hated administration. He was my mirrored opposite. He died suddenly at the age of fifty-one while on a mission trip. I preached in his pulpit for five months, trying to help the congregation heal while they searched for a new pastor.

A church we attended for several years had a wonderful pastor who once lamented, “My biggest challenge is staying away from the church on my day off.” I just didn’t understand that.

I genuinely admire and envy pastor-pastors. The ones who eat, sleep and drink their love for ministry and people.

For me, surviving Sunday mornings was hard. Each week I had to get my mind and emotions in the right place.

I got up at 5:30 and listened to a music program on WJR with the theme song, “The Little Lost Dog.” I don’t know why I listened to it because the song made me feel sad to think about a puppy wandering the streets alone. But I liked listening to the voice of the host.

The Renfro Valley Gatherin’ came on next. The show featured a combination of old hymns and country mountain music with lots of dobros and harmonicas. I pictured myself there in the hills of Kentucky.

I had two hours to prepare myself for what was to come. It was like hiding behind the cereal box fort before going to school when I was a kid.

Setting the mood was very important and routine helped make it happen.

Eventually, we moved to a bigger church with many more people and responsibilities. The more administrating I had to do, the happier I was.

My Sunday morning routine remained the same, but I used different music. Every week I listened to John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers’ “Te Deum”, an album that included the beautiful “Prayer of St. Francis.”

“Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.

“Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy, and all for Thy mercy’s sake.

“Oh, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love.

“For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

After another eight years of personal struggle and a year of weekly counseling sessions, I decided to retire. I was in ministry thirty-one years in various capacities, including seventeen years as a pastor.

Maybe I would have been okay if I could just preach and go home week after week, after month, after year. But then, that’s not a pastor, is it? Pastors smell like sheep from living among them. Preaching is farther down their list, trailing behind loving, visiting, and caring for people.

I went back to school at a local university for teacher certification in secondary Social Studies and Psychology. I completed a year of student teaching with two hundred and seventy-five eighth graders.

After a few years of substitute teaching, I returned to school again for a Master of Arts Degree in Educational and Professional Counseling, which I received in 2011. Although I was studying to provide help for students and clients who were struggling in various ways, I was learning a great deal about myself. My master’s degree led to an opportunity to be a middle school counselor for five years. I dearly loved working with our middle school students.

The truth is, I still don’t like Sundays. It’s not church. It’s not people. It never has been. It is the interruption of my routine with the possibility of unexpected situations, changes, and demands. It is fear of the unknown and uncontrollable.

Everyone experiences life through the lens of their own personality and perspective.

It’s true what they say. Counselors become counselors because they need counseling. Been there.