Psalm 90: 1 – 6, 13 – 17 A Week in the Life of a Pastor   September 26, 2021



A Week in the Life of a Pastor

Psalm 90: 1 – 6, 13 – 17


(preached September 26, 2021)


Maybe because we’re now in the season of fall, I find myself thinking about time, especially how time passes.  Signs of the passage of time are all around us now:  leaves changing color, daylight hours growing shorter, night closing in earlier each day.  That’s why I chose Psalm 90 for our passage for today, from the Hebrew Scriptures.


The psalmist writes beautifully about time, especially God’s view of time: “A thousand ages in [God’s] sight are like yesterday when it is past.”  In verse 12, the psalmist asks God to “teach us number our days, that we might gain a wise heart.”  In those words, I hear God’s call to spend my time well.


In this morning’s sermon I’d like to share with you a little about how I spend my time as your pastor.  There’s a joke that ministers only work for one hour a week, and while that’s not the case for any ministers I know, I realize that you don’t see much of what I do, except for this one hour Sunday morning that we’re together.  Growing up, I had an idea what ministers do because my dad was an Episcopal priest.  Every day I could see how he spent his time: the worship services and hospital visits and meetings.  But I realize that many people in a congregation don’t know how their minister spends her time.   So here’s a little about what I do the rest of the week.


Of course, a lot of the week I spend getting ready for Sunday.  Usually on Mondays, I look at the Bible passages the Revised Common Lectionary offers for the next Sunday.  A word here about the Revised Common Lectionary.  The lectionary is a three-year cycle of Bible readings that are assigned for each Sunday in the church year, so that preachers can draw from different parts of the Bible for our sermons.


In three years, the lectionary covers all four of the gospels, and much of the epistles, or letters, that are in the New Testament.  It also includes psalms and readings from the Hebrew Scriptures.  I don’t always follow the Lectionary.  For example, today did not have Psalm 90 assigned as a reading.  But I chose it because it’s about time.  More often than not, though, I’m what’s called a lectionary preacher.


So as I begin to think about the sermon, the lectionary gives me four scriptures to choose from.  My hope is that, by choosing different scriptures each week, I will preach on different themes, not the same thing week after week.  Also, I think it’s important for us to hear different parts of the Bible.  The Bible has tremendous variety: everything from history and poetry to letters and gospel accounts.  You can find all kinds of people and just about every human experience in the Bible.  I think it’s good to hear about those experiences.


Once I’ve chosen a scripture, I look into what scholars of the Bible have written about those scriptures in books called commentaries.  As I do that, I feel as if I’m having a conversation with other people of faith, some of whom may have lived a long time ago.  Some of those people had questions similar to the questions I bring to the scripture; others had very different questions.


I also listen to the news every day, and read the newspaper, so my sermons can relate our faith to what’s happening in the world.


But the most important thing I do as I prepare a sermon is listen for what God might be saying in that Bible passage.  Is God calling us to look beyond ourselves and help someone in need?  Is God calling us to be more grateful, or more loving or maybe not to take ourselves too seriously?  In prayer and contemplation, I try to hear what God is saying.  I listen for insight from God’s Spirit.


Insights come at times when I pray, but sometimes insights come when I’m not sitting quietly in prayer.  Sometimes they come when I’m walking, or driving, or even when I’m in the shower.  Maybe something similar has happened to you.  I think it’s because when we’re not concentrating intently, our minds relax and ideas can find their way in.


Once I have a sense about where the sermon is going, I begin to design the service.  I choose hymns and prayers that I hope will lift up themes like the beauty of God’s world, the forgiveness we find in the love of Christ, and the faith and trust that support us when we follow Jesus.  I hope the hymns and prayers will inspire us to serve God in the world.


Maybe you’re getting the picture that a lot of my time goes into preparing the message for Sunday, and everything that goes with it.  That’s true, but I also spend a lot of time each week just staying in touch with people.  I meet with the Deacons regularly.  I also check in with church members who aren’t deacons.  These days, because of COVID, it’s been harder to stay in touch in the usual ways.  We don’t have coffee hour, so I have less time for the kind of conversation that keeps me up to speed with what’s happening in people’s lives.  I miss that.


But a blessing of our times is that I have many more ways to stay in touch than I used to.  When I was first ordained, the only way I had to reach most members of the church was the telephone.  Now I use email, text messages, even Facebook at times to reach people. When it’s possible, I still like the old fashioned telephone conversation.  To me, there’s no substitute for hearing someone’s voice. The tone of voice can communicate much more than words on the screen or phone or computer.


Best of all, though, is an in person visit.  Of course when someone’s in the hospital, I visit them.  I try to visit people when they’re in rehab recovering from surgery too.  And I spend a good amount of time visiting folks who can’t leave their homes easily.  Some of our church members have health problems and disabilities that keep them homebound.  An important part of my ministry is visiting those folks.  They’ve been members of the church for years, and the church is still very important to them.  When I visit, they want to know what’s going on.  They share stories with me of things they did when they were active in church.


There’s one more thing I try to do every week: get together with other ministers, to talk about how our ministries are going.  We meet on Zoom, or in person.  Sometimes I meet with other clergy in the United Church of Christ, and sometimes with clergy from other churches.  All of us are facing challenges in these turbulent times.  Especially since the pandemic, people aren’t going to church the way they used to.  Yet we know people still need God.  We meet to support each other, to share ideas, and to remember we are not alone.  For me it’s been really great to have the help of colleagues who showed me how to use technology.  I’m happy to report that the Millbury Sutton clergy group met in person earlier this month, and we’ll meet again in November.


I hope this sermon has given you a better sense of how I spend my time every week.  It is a joy to be your pastor.  I pray that God will continue to help us number our days.  I pray that in our days we will bring glory to God and goodness to the world.















Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 19