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Making a Life from a Living in a Rural Church

Parsonage flowers in May of 2017 next to Port Royal Baptist Church

They will invite you to

live with them, really

live with them. Do, if you can.

You will learn, in time,

a spirituality

with a little give to it.

How else can the people live

between variable sky

and forgiving earth,

and belong to both,

and to one another?

 

Your salary, which will be

considerably smaller

Than some of your urban

or suburban counterparts,

but measurably larger

than some who pay it,

must go to good.  It should

stay, as much as possible

in the community where you work,

Local doctors, local food

from farmers you love,

or will grow to love

as you learn from them

how to taste and see

that the Lord is good,

the place is good, the

hands reaching out to

you are good, and

they mean you well.

 

Your work, which will not be more,

if you are well-loved,

than what they ask of themselves,

will be seasonal.

And you must learn to trust

the gifts of each season,

and plan for spring, as

your people do. And trust, foremost,

that seasons do and must pass,

that weathering them will

strengthen all the best

in you.

 

Despair might set in if you let it.

Do not let it.

Determine in your own mind

to go out and find the good

in your people, in your place,

and in your life together.

Trust that it will be together

that you will see the Lord.

 

Your call, and your fellow workers, and

the culture around you will shock you.

Let it. And yet,

explore each inner scandal in

your heart with love.

Make no quick decisions.

Bless people as they come

and if they should go.

Those who return

and those who fall away

will surprise you.

 

It will take years, but not

as many as you suppose

before you can be the prophet

dancing, as you must,

along and across and back past

the line that marks outsider

from insider. [Stay years.]

And if you stay, you

will learn to speak the

dialect, and yet

you must introduce

new words, but,

with a little wisdom,

the right ones. Read more

Dying or Rising? A Review of Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom beyond Survival by Anna Olson

Abandoned Church Hall

Abandoned Church Hall

During divinity school, I encountered the late medieval ars moriendi, handbooks on dying with grace. The entire concept of dying well seemed incredibly, uncomfortably foreign to my 22 year-old spirit: dying from the bubonic plague sounded, well, awful, and it was hard for me to imagine any grace in such a death. Staring at death and acknowledging that all things shall pass away seemed ghoulish or un-holy, contrary to the Easter God of life. Then, I served for five-and-a-half years in an urban parish that faced both the physical deaths of many parishioners and neighborhood youth, and battled against the death of its beloved Christian day school. We stared at the death of a ministry while trusting in the resurrection of the dead.

My experience at this faithful and brave church convinced me of the need for resources for our institutional life on how to die with grace and faith. The Rev. Anna B. Olson’s book, Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom beyond Survival, is one of these resources.

Olson’s book includes both practical wisdom on the death of a church’s ministries and its preparations for new life and a bold theology of trust in the resurrection. In nine concise, readable chapters, the Rev. Olson describes how she and her congregation, St. Mary’s Mariposa in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, have practiced dying with grace. Olson shares how deaths of ministries have opened the way for the resurrection and for new life. Read more