The smell of Christmas coming is beginning to percolate like fresh coffee — a chill air and a sense of brooding. The glorious moment, in its resonant echo, approaching in the affairs of human history. There is a sense of pregnancy, of imminence, of a holiness beginning to rise like the rising sun on a mountaintop.
It started with an email from North Dakota — a church is looking for a pastor to serve its people. I reflected on this to see what feelings rose up in my breast. It tingled with the same sense of possibility, of a call that I once felt when I received my email from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, a sense of a command emanating from it.
If there was any place colder than Eastern Oregon I think that North Dakota would fit that bill. I had once driven across the country, through the 600 miles of Montana, and pierced the heart of Bismarck, North Dakota, — thick with snow winding in the wind — on my way to Minnesota. North Dakota appeared to be at the back of the North Wind.
Many years before, before I graduated from my seminary, I had thought about North Dakota and I had thought about God’s delirious and challenging sense of humor. For some reason I thought that my track might take me to this place, at the bottom of the Northern Lights where the music of silence and prayer would harmonize together.
So I am excited to respond, as well as being dreadfully fearful.
The lesson I have learned, or one of the lessons that I have learned, is that I am required to step away from all the backup plans. When I came to Boardman I came as a part-time pastor, someone who would work at a day job in the week and would work from Friday to Sunday in the pulpit pen. This seven-day-a-week workweek brought me to the brink of death and heart bypass surgery. It wasn’t as trusting as I should have been.
North Dakota is full-time church work, where I can leap into the many homes and lives of this flock, where I find myself with them — as well as my God — ‘til death do us part. I am no longer of a double identity.
Of course, it is not just my stepping forth; this congregation must also step forth if they are interested in me. Will they appreciate this limey pastor floating into their world?
As if to tempt or tease, I called the church and the voice that answered sounded a little familiar. We chatted for a bit. He was the interim pastor. I said to him, “You don’t by any chance know my old professor at seminary, Jim Nestingen?”
He laughed. “He is my brother,” he said. I could hear a bell tolling in heaven. A Norwegian bell with a sound that reached around the world. He has served as my mentor and guide for at least ten years.
As if to further underline the currents in the ethers, when I later sat down in front of the television to watch PBS, the same familiar face of my professor — the craggy features of my teacher like ancient rocks — Dr. Nestingen was discussing the momentous events of the reformation.
Of course, coincidences like these can happen. But the significance of these were clear to me, with the anonymous voice of my Lord making me quiver in my core.
So I am stepping toward the unknown. I have seen the Northern Lights before, staggeringly beautiful and strange with the flavor of an enchanted planet. I shall offer myself to my God of all possibilities to see what is needed — if God wants me to show up, or just to show willingness to go all in. I shall trust in the Lord as that is all I can do before the throne — and do it in his joy and peace.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.