Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection August 5, 2018
"Reflections from My Installation as Pastor Ten Years Ago" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Due to my fall on Monday, July 23 on the street - with the subsequent fracture of my left wrist and the surgery on Friday, August 27, to place a plate with pins/screws in my wrist, I find myself having a hard time typing. So - in light of this - and in light of my recent tenth anniversary as pastor of our beloved church, I will put in this week’s Advance, some of words I spoke at my installation service so long ago.
“My sisters and brothers, I am delighted to see you all here this afternoon. I first want to say that I believe my being chosen by the search committee is an act of great courage considering my very different background as a Franciscan priest. In the reading from Matthew (Mt 11:28-30) which my lovely wife read, we hear ourselves being called to a life of gentle and humble service. I pray that we might all find rest for our souls in the ministry of our Good Shepherd.
“If one of us suffers, says St. Paul in 1st Corinthians 12:26, all of us suffer. And if one of us is honored all of us share joy. I stand here today to formally accept the ministry of pastor of this congregation and the community served by this church.
“Of course, I do not pastor this church by myself. If I thought I would have to pastor this church by myself – I might flee with Beth to my favorite Hawaiian island of Maui. But, no, I am not alone in pastoring Morgan Park (American) Baptist Church. All who share in the priesthood of believers pastor this church with me. My role as pastor is a shared role. It can be no other way.
It was the eminent theologian Karl Rahner who wrote: ‘Everyone who is baptized is consecrated a pastor.’ And therefore, my brothers and sisters, every congregant here today is pastor of this church. I may have the title but each member of this church has the task of pastor. I merely serve as the pastor of the pastors.
“So what is our shared task as pastors? The Episcopalian pastor, Alan Jones, tells us that to be a pastor means we must address the spiritual poverty so rampant in our society. We must also help make a family out of strangers. These are but two of our shared tasks as pastors.
“All of us who are pastors are called to be instruments of hope and healing in our bruised and battered world. We would well remember the admonition from Jones that our only hope depends on our seeing how deeply we belong to each other. Let me say this again: our only hope depends on our seeing how deeply we belong to each other.
“Sisters and brothers, those of us who pastor this church are called to be agents of transformation. We must not only be rooted in our long and sturdy Baptist tradition but we must also be pioneers of the unchartered and unknown. As the son of Irish immigrants, I understand that journeys underlie not only faith but life itself.
“My fellow pastors, we must not be afraid to undertake the pilgrimage of faith – which will lead us into unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable places. But the Dutch spiritual writer Henri Nouwen taught us the following truth: ‘It would be just another illusion to believe that reaching out to God will free us from pain and suffering. Often, indeed, it will take us where we would rather not go. But we know that without going there we would not find the fullness of life.’
“I promise today, sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, that I will pray for the courage to go where God leads us – where God guides us. As Psalm 31: verse 3 assures us: ‘You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me.’ And if I might change the words a touch: ‘You are our rock and our fortress; for your name’s sake lead us and guide us.’
“I have come to believe in my many years of ministry that ministry is as much a touch as a call. To minister effectively means we come to recognize that in each of our lives, God has already ‘seized the initiative.’ To pastor means we help people see the grace operating in their lives – to feel the touch of the Spirit – the flame of the Spirit of God – setting fires in our hearts – rekindling the embers planted in our souls by the One Who Made Us.
“My fellow pastors, we are not only instruments of God’s grace – we are also signs of God’s grace. We must share what God has done within and among us – this is how we pastor one another.
“Brothers and sisters, to be a pastor means to be unafraid of mistakes. Now this doesn’t mean trying to make as many mistakes as possible. But it does mean coming to recognizing that mistakes will be made – yet also knowing how God’s mercy is unimaginably abundant. As pastor, I ask you to help me by pointing out – gently please – my mistakes. Pastoring requires this gentle care for each other.
“Please join with me today in respecting what has been – in appreciating what is – and in envisioning what can be. Let us always remember – in the words of the Chicago theologian Jack Shea – that God takes straight lines and turns them into Picasso. I can’t wait to see what God will do with us here at Morgan Park (American) Baptist Church. Amen, brothers and sisters, amen!”