The Substitute

 The pastor of the church I attend moved to Missouri a couple of weeks ago.  He’d been with us for twenty-one years. His wife recently was laid off from a private school where she had taught for twenty-five years.  They had given her a nice plaque for her service, and then, when enrollment dropped recently, they laid her off, along with the other teachers that had worked there the longest.  After all, the most senior teachers received the highest salaries at that school and so when the school needed to save money, oh well.  Private schools don’t have the inconvenience of tenure or unions to deal with.

So, when she found a new teaching position in Missouri, our pastor submitted his resignation and off they went.

As a result, I’ve been tasked with preaching each Sunday until we can find a replacement; being Baptists we are congregationally governed, with each local church being entirely independent.  This confuses most people who aren’t Baptists who are under the odd impression that if the denomination says something it means all the local congregations agree, care, or will even abide by it.  When the denomination gets together once a year and holds a bi meeting made up of delegates from churches around the country, any pronouncements made, votes taken may be meaningful to those who had the time to go to such a thing—mostly retired people.  But the rest of us can ignore it if we choose, and mostly we so choose.  Of course, given the non-existent power of the denomination over the local congregations, this also means that the denomination doesn’t send us a new pastor.  Can’t even.  We have to find one and hire him ourselves.

Since I’m the only one in our local congregation who has ever been around when it came time to get a new pastor, I’ll probably wind up as part of the pastoral search committee that we’ll be forming in a couple of weeks.  The search for a new pastor is not a quick thing; chances are it will take us at least six months to find the replacement.  Our denomination tells us, based on all the data they’ve collected from thousands of congregations over the last couple of centuries, we should expect to spend one month for each year our previous pastor served.  I’m hoping they’re wrong.

Also, since I’m a deacon and the individual in the church with the most biblical education—I’ve taught Bible, biblical languages, and theology on both a college and seminary level—I’m also going to get to serve as the interim pastor.  Finally I get to use my graduate degree from UCLA for something other than writing books or teaching college classes.  

I preached for the first time last Sunday. So far as I can tell no one died from the experience. I used a microphone, so that may kept them from napping as well as they otherwise might have, too.

I’ve served as a substitute pastor every so often when our pastor got sick or went on vacation.  This will be my first experience as a long-term substitute.  And the first experience for these people to have to hear me droning week after week.  I’m hoping it will be a better experience for all of us than that faced by substitute teachers in schools.