God in the Spaces

Today, I have the honor of presenting my dad, Norman Stolpe, as my guest blogger.  I have so many things that I could write about in describing my dad.  He has probably been one of my biggest writing influences.  Dad helped me through my senior year of Honors English in high school.  Writing has always surrounded Dad as he has written books, stories, curriculum, poems, and countless sermons.  He is a true inspiration to me.  Today, he shares about finding God in the Spaces.  I think you’ll enjoy what he has to share.  To read more from my dad, you can follow him on his blogs:  Christlink and Writing Workshop.

(If you’re interested in guest posting on my blog, please drop me a comment.  I’d love to connect with you.)

Monastery of St. Scholastica - "Ora et Labora"

My son Jon asked if I would write something for his Stretched blog about how I am being stretched by my current transition. After 35 years of ordained ministry and long-term relationships with three churches (one exception was 2 years), I “retired” from Central Christian Church in Dallas, Texas where I had been the pastor for almost 11 years. I am viewing this as a transition to a new phase of ministry as an interim pastor. I am in conversation with a couple of congregations, and the prospect of serving one of them by September is encouraging, but nothing is definite yet.

I believe I am being stretched as I watch for the presence of God in this in between space. Though I have intentionally described this as a transition, I am learning to accept that other people label it “retirement.” I am anticipating several years of active, full-time ministry, but I am adjusting to recognizing how major this transition is.

My wife, Candy, and I consciously started down this path couple of years ago and worked with Central Christian Church for a transparent, smooth, healthy transition for their pastoral leadership. My last Sunday to preach was May 29, and my successors (Revs. Drs. Steve and Debbie Chisolm) will preach for the first time July 10. God’s hand in that process was gentle but clear to us and the congregation.

I have been amazed at how many seemingly minor details have fallen into place for exactly the right timing as our transition has unfolded so far. I have felt that this has stretched my faith to expect the details will continue to fall into place at just the right time as it becomes clear which congregation we will be serving next. We know we will have an income gap of at least a month, hoping to fill it with supply preaching and temp work. So far we seem to have navigated the uncertainties and ambiguities with minimal anxiety.

However, reflecting on that is stretching me in another direction. I have to ask myself, “Why should I expect my path to be smooth with everything provided at just the right time? Other people who are at least as faithful to Jesus have to endure hardship and deprivation on their paths. I certainly don’t deserve to be exempt.”

In this in between space, I feel the tension between trusting God, perhaps presumptuously, and the pull of frantic activity to bring in income and perhaps force a premature decision about where we will serve. I believe I have to take responsible steps as acts of faith that God is the one actually orchestrating events. I am reminded of the inscription above the door of the Monastery of St. Scholastica (St. Benedict’s sister) in Subiaco, Italy (and other Benedictine monasteries). “Ora et Labora” pray and work. The priority is to pray first. Then work finds its place in harmony with God’s activity.

My patience is being stretched, not in the sense of anxious impatience, but recognizing that church processes move slowly. God is patient too, not just with our individual foibles, but also with the unhurried unfolding of history. With this stretching patience, I am learning to watch for God to slip the smallest details into place at just the right time. As I recognize God’s hand in the details, I am also learning that God’s story doesn’t revolve around me and having my journey unfold smoothly, but that I am privileged to play some part in God’s greater plan. If I will be patient, I will discern just how the details fit at just the right time.

How have you seen God in the spaces of your life?