Teaching Old Dogs (and Pastors) New Tricks - Word&Way

Teaching Old Dogs (and Pastors) New Tricks

Can an old dog really learn new tricks? I’m learning a lot about that subject these days.

Only God knows what a 76-year old woman, six years beyond retirement, can learn and possibly even enjoy in any kind of change! Once you settle into retirement, even if you don’t necessarily “settle” in the normal fashion (whatever “normal” is), you don’t expect to find enjoyment in the changes and surprises that life will be bringing. Aren’t those mainly in declining health and loss? Aren’t we preparing to expect less rather than more?

Looking back to the day I got the phone call from Bethel Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri, asking if I might be interested in doing a four-to-six-month interim there, I confess that I was shocked — pleasantly shocked — but still, shocked. If I had seen an ad for this position, I wouldn’t have even considered applying. Why? Because I could not imagine that any church would be interested in hiring an elderly woman like myself, who had never had the weekly responsibility of delivering a sermon!

Though I enjoyed the preaching opportunities that have come along with my part-time position as a pastor for single adults for over 17 years, I frequently added the words: “But, I’m certainly glad I don’t have to preach weekly!” (And some would say God has no sense of humor! Ha!)

After I picked myself up from the floor, saying I would certainly think about it, and told my husband, I felt this delightful sensation of being affirmed that somebody still felt I might have whatever it took to do such a thing.

After preaching a “trial” sermon in early December and fulfilling an already-promised pulpit supply for December 29, I began the official term in January of 2020. Even though I had heard much about this church — all good — and had preached there at least once before, I had no idea how much I would come to love this congregation!

They welcomed my husband, Keith, and I so warmly and made us feel at home at the get-go. I fell in love with their love and care of one another. I loved their progressive ways of showing love to their community and one another. Each week I felt more at home and grateful for having this opportunity.

I quickly got comfortable with the weekly preaching expectation,  singing with the choir, and fellowship times. At least I got a couple months to practice all that before the big challenge hit!

COVID-19 showed up with a small roar that escalated to a big one in almost no time! Suddenly it was no longer feasible or wise to try to meet together on Sundays for worship! If we were to stay connected other than phone calls and Facebook, we were going to have to find new methods of communication.

How does a technologically-challenged person like me shift from closing the church for meetings and — in one week — go to online streaming? Very carefully.

How blessed it is to work with a dedicated staff who knows more about how to do these things than I, and a wonderful husband who is willing to do whatever to help. It only took three tries to set up the video camera, a makeshift contraption of strapping my Kindle to a tripod made from a folding music stand!

Where to film it? By the fireplace so it looks cozy and inviting? No, didn’t quite look right. Next, we tried the dining room table and that was better. But watching the replay of the first two tries, I became aware of some distracting challenges. There were some quirky habits I had developed rather recently in my delivery. (How to overcome them? Did I need some speech therapy? At my age? Or can I correct it myself?)

After hours of work, our minister of music put all the pieces of the worship together to view on Facebook Live. My last check saw we had 509 views — representing people from all over the world! Wow! Though I don’t have a clue how many actually stayed with the whole service I’m amazed at the reach of such a small video!

This week has been taken up already with tweaking things we know needed improvement while making some additions we hope will be more meaningful. Only God knows who might be touched and how. We are all thanking God for a new learning curve.

God’s GPS may lead us in directions we could never have even imagined. I’m now more convinced than ever that listening and following can bring about the most wonderful, satisfying adventures we could ever have imagined.

Written by

Jeanie McGowan is interim pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri. She is also a member of the Word&Way Board of Trustees.