On June 1, I celebrate fifteen years since I started in the role as Lead Pastor at Mount Hamilton Baptist Church. (Yes, for those of you wondering, I started when I was 15…Insert polite laughter here for CLASSIC PASTOR JOKE!!!).
But seriously, I started in this job when I was 27 and most days I still shake my head when I think about the leap of faith that this church took hiring such a young, inexperienced and opinionated pastor. I also shake my head when I think that I have been here for fifteen years. I never planned for this. I didn’t want to stay at a church a long time. I didn’t want to pastor a traditional church. I didn’t even want to live in Hamilton!
Yet, here I am, so thankful that God gave me all the things I thought I didn’t want.
This week I can’t help but think of the things that have changed since I started at MHBC. Our church is different than it was when I started 15 years ago. Three quarters of our 300 person church joined in the last ten years. We have gone from having almost no kids to trying to figure out where to put our slew of toddlers and preschoolers. We did a big renovation project. We went from pews to chairs, we removed the pulpit, my office moved three times. We changed our worship service. I stopped wearing suits (yes, there was a time I did this). We began an online service.
We went from staff taking unpaid vacation to make the budget balance to asking how much more we could give to others from generous givings. We went from phone trees and an 8-page bulletin to facebook and instagram. We went from two pastors to three. We incorporated. We re-wrote by-laws. We started new ministries, we got rid of old ones. We went through changes that were often painful, and that made me wonder if things would work out.
And while all of these changes happened, ministry went on. People died. Babies were born. People left. People joined. Those children in the nursery grew up. I officiated the weddings of kids who started in our youth group. I buried people that I loved. I performed 56 baptisms, 32 weddings, 42 baby dedications and 45 funerals (including one for our day care’s skinny pig with a congregation of 20 four year olds). I preached hundreds of sermons.
And my life kept going. I got ordained. I had two children. We bought two houses. My sister died. My hair started going grey. All while I served at Mount Hamilton.
A lot happens in fifteen years.
And now here I am fifteen years after my first day at MHBC, working from home and missing my people and thinking back to so many beautiful memories made with a church family that I love and that I have been honoured to lead. I didn’t anticipate anything about this time fifteen years ago. I didn’t anticipate still serving here. I didn’t anticipate how a lot of those hard things would turn out. I didn’t anticipate what God could do with us. I didn’t anticipate loving it.
If I have learned anything about ministry in the last fifteen years at the same church, I think what seems most fitting to remember today is that lesson: we rarely can anticipate what God will do.
I need to remember that.
As I look at the days to come, I wish I had all the answers. I would like to know when we can be together in a big group again. I would like to know when we can do more baptisms, weddings, proper funerals. I would like to know how ministry will look, and if it will work with all the changes still in front of us. I would like to know what God has in store – but I don’t.
What I know is that God had a more beautiful plan for my life fifteen years ago than I could have imagined for myself. That it started in a situation where I didn’t entirely want to be, and didn’t entirely plan to stay too long. I know that I can look back and say “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.”
As I step into year sixteen, we are in a season unlike any other and I have no idea what is ahead. Ministry looks like nothing I signed up for. It pushes my skills and limits every day. It’s not what I anticipated. But I am certain of this: One day I will once again say: “Well done God. You were doing something really great there. Thanks for letting me be part of it.”
Here is a random gathering of some favourite MHBC photos and memories (*that I had on Facebook and didn’t require me to find our hard drive with old photos…)