Would the Apostle Paul be proud?

Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop

If confession is good for the soul, then what I’m about to publicly admit should do me a world of good: Many of my column ideas get their shaky start during the worship service at my church, but when I think about it (which is always dangerous), that’s probably preferable to stating that they are hatched while watching some moronic cable TV show or while braying to my longsuffering spouse about the driving habits of fellow motorists, although on occasion I’ll awaken in the middle of the night to visit the little boys’ room – an event that is quickly becoming a ritual as I join the distinguished ranks of senior citizenry – and an idea sweeps out of my left lobe that later morphs into another lame literary offering (how’s that for taking things lying down?), and I breathe a little prayer of thanks in having again eluded an impasse and, oh, the song leader is announcing the next hymn that I’ll wager is “Will You Let Me Be Your Servant” that has held the number-one spot on the hymnal hit parade at our congregation for eons but I personally find irritating, especially the whiny melody, but what do I know other than my wife brings her own hymnal to church and records in the margin what songs are sung each Sunday that would be a revelation to many to discover how many are sung repeatedly in any given month, in part because we have a different song leader each Sunday in contrast to childhood days in my home congregation in southeastern Pennsylvania where the only chorister I can recall was the late Millard Detweiler who led the great hymns of the church and gospel selections from “Life Songs No. 2” and I yearn to sing those wonderful words of life over again (I can’t visualize Millard leading some repetitive chorus with words projected on the wall) but thankfully Community Mennonite has incredible a capella singing and a core of gifted musicians who lead a variety of worship music that I find the most meaningful part of our services, plus when I’m singing I can’t be jotting notes in the margin of my bulletin for a potential column or daydreaming or fretting about an issue I’ve got to deal with as soon as I’m back at work Monday morning, which is what church should be about – providing strength and encouragement to face the gritty realities of every day life, and this particular Sunday Pastor Ray gives us a bit of a reality check by announcing that he is resigning after 10 years on pastoral team because his wife Brenda has accepted a call to pastor a Mennonite church in Pennsylvania and it happens to be the very one where Anna and I were married on a sultry night in July 1967 which brings back a flood of fond but sweaty memories of early married life in Elkhart, Ind., and our involvement with a wonderful congregation, Belmont Mennonite, where I started a monthly church newsletter called “Intersect” and discovered recently that this modest publication is still going strong today – which is more than I can say for myself some days – and years later I would start a newsletter at this church that had a five-year life cycle in the mid-1980s although I get more satisfaction from taking photos of special events in our congregational life and posting them in the fellowship hall while at the same time I try to avoid the embarrassment of looking at someone across the way who suddenly looks back at me and wonders why I’m looking at them in the first place even as I ponder what’s really going through the minds of others in the sanctuary since many no longer are preoccupied with worry over whether the meat is going to overcook in the oven since few families go home to roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy and creamed peas dinners that I grew up with even as aromas from the many crock pots bubbling away in the kitchen area waft into the auditorium in anticipation of our monthly potluck that Anna and I don’t attend because we don’t care for them – it’s our “problem” – and we’re usually preoccupied with having our own daughters and their offspring, our grandkids, at our place for lunch, while Anna tries to read my latest scribbling and I whisper to her that I’m taking notes on this morning’s message, and I look around in vain for a clock anywhere in our sanctuary but what purpose would it serve when we never know just when our services will end because we have a weekly “sharing time” that no one would dare tamper with – repeated gentle pleas to “be succinct” go unheeded – and some persons use this opportunity to make announcements that belong in our newsweekly sheet, as I wonder what visitors think of our feisty fellowship, then realize how much I love this church where we’ve been members since 1973 and are now numbered among those few older people who stand up on a designated Sunday each fall and renew our memberships for another year, a practice more congregations should try, and with the service now overlapping with the start of Sunday school there are two activities remaining in the order of service before the benediction and closing song (we’ll sing all six stanzas). Go in peace.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.

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