Let me start with a timeline.
- October 31, 2020 – I become the new Virginia Conference Lay Leader in a virtual Annual Conference where I take my Birkenstocks off and talk about standing on Holy Ground.
- November 20, 2020 – With COVID still having things shut down, it seems like the perfect time for elective surgery on my right foot. Two weeks after surgery there is a little hiccup, but a round of antibiotics seemed to take care of the issue.
- Physical therapy from mid-January to the end of February – Thought I was ready to be released but alas, the doctor came in from looking at x-rays and said, “Do you remember doing anything lately that put extra stress on your foot?” The hardware had pulled completely out of one bone, and there was an impacted fracture in the part of the bone that remained. “We have to fix this as soon as possible because you’ve got 20-30 more years of walking to do.”
- March 26, 2021 – Surgery #2 to repair all the stuff that was broken. Beautiful new titanium plate in my foot. Eight weeks of no weight bearing turns into ten. A CT scan at the end of May shows limited healing. Gone is the knee scooter but more time in the walking boot.
- June 18 – 19, 2021 – Annual Conference in a walking boot.
- Mid-July – Finally get out of the boot only to learn that two staples are interfering with joint movement and need to be removed.
- August 6, 2021 – Surgery #3 to remove hardware, while Steve is having an attack of kidney stones in the hospital parking deck. Last thing I hear the doctor say is that she will roll me down to the ER instead of the Recovery Room if Steve is there when I come out of surgery. Two more weeks of the boot.
Flash ahead to this spring when a 5K Run/Walk is announced for the Saturday morning of the Virginia Annual Conference to support the Annual Conference offering. The Conference Lay Leader has to set an example, right? Yet there is no way, walking as carefully as I do these days, that I can even try this walk early on the last morning of the Annual Conference session and be in my seat, ready for Bible Study at 8:30 AM. So I come up with the bright idea that I can tackle the walk following the last Annual Conference planning committee meeting. Who would have guessed that in mid-April the doctor would say “I think you are developing a bone cyst in your big toe joint?” Who could have imagined that the recommendation just last week would be to place carbon fiber inserts in my shoes? Who knew then that it would be 95+ degrees in Hampton on May 31st???
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith….Hebrews 12:1-2, New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVUE)
This brings me to the lessons learned on Tuesday afternoon.
- Be courageous. Be bold. Take a risk. Oh, lay leaders, how much do we need this commitment for the ministries of the church today? Coming out of the pandemic, it has been much too easy to slip back into comfortable, safe ways of “being church.” That is not what we are called to be about right now! We need renewal. We need new creativity. We need the fire of Pentecost to fall upon us. I have never walked a 5K before, much less considered it after a seventeen month journey of surgery, recovery and starting to walk again. I had to tell everybody as we were leaving the planning team meeting that I was walking; otherwise, I would have gotten in my car and driven straight home. My Fitbit showed 4,753 steps when I got out of my car at the trail. It read 11,180 when I got back one hour and four minutes later. Slow, but steady – with lots of pictures along the way.
- Be observant. Church, we have to recognize the diversity and changing needs in our communities. We have to listen – really listen – to the stories of those we worship with, pass on the streets, spend our working hours with and yes, even those with whom we disagree. We have to see and respect all the people. Signs along the Matteson Trail remind you to look out for golf balls as the trail winds around a local golf course. You also have to look out for the golfers searching for those lost balls…and the deer…and the squirrels…and the tree roots…and the sun peaking through the leaves bringing light into the shadows. You could easily get hurt if you’re not paying attention but more importantly, you might miss the beauty of God’s creation. You might not see the face of Jesus standing right in front of you. You might not hear the Holy Spirit as it moves among the leaves.
- Care for yourself. Recognize when you need to rest, when you need to learn something new, and when you need to feed your soul – even if that comes from walking a wooded trail at your very own pace, one step at a time. Find ways for your church leaders – clergy and lay – to rest and renew. Only then can we focus on our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. There were lots of water breaks, lots of wiping my face on my sleeve while walking, and a moment or two of doubt that I could actually make it all the way without taking a shortcut across the golf course. But know what? I made it all the way!
- Celebrate what works and let what doesn’t fade away. Make space for new opportunities. We as church leaders are not the best at having fearless conversations and making challenging decisions as we evaluate ministry programming and attempt to objectively talk about our current contexts. It is so much easier to let things continue as they always have. We can’t do that any more – at church or in our communities. That is not who we are called to be. I wouldn’t have walked this trail if there hadn’t been plans for something new at this upcoming Annual Conference. I probably wouldn’t have even considered it if I didn’t hear the challenge of my doctor saying over and over in my head, “You’ve got 20-30 more years of walking to do.” I pray that I’ve also got 20-30 more years of being the hands and feet of Jesus, 20-30 more years of work to do to build the kin-dom of God.
As I came to the end of the walk, there were weathered, leaning mile markers on each side of the trail. In the direction I was heading, the marker noted the end of three miles. On the opposite side, it marked the beginning of the journey.
We stand in that space at every step of our walk as leaders in today’s church.
It just so happened that as I stood there, taking the last sip of water from the bottle I had been carrying, a couple of jets took off from Langley Air Force Base (just 5 miles away). There had been several flyovers as I walked the trail, but this one was timed perfectly: to honor the risk, to celebrate the finish, to mark the next 20-30 years of walking in the path of Jesus.
“…let (me) run with perseverance the race that is set before (me)…