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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Reflections on 8 Years of Ministry

Where to begin – I suppose at the beginning.

When I first received a phone call regarding my profile, I was a little stunned because First Congregational Church in Elkhart wasn’t even on my radar. But I knew after our first Skype session that this was the church for me. There was no doubt in my mind. I hoped and prayed that God was leading me to this place because it felt like the perfect fit.

The day I got the phone call that they wanted to call me to be their pastor, I almost didn’t believe it. I called Pastor DiNino (my mentor) immediately to let her know. We did all the stuff that you have to do to quickly organize an ordination service, and then everything happened at once.

I celebrated my 50th birthday on August 8, 2015.

I was legally married to my long-time-partner, Ouida Lampert, on August 15, 2015.

I was ordained as a minister on August 16, 2015.

I moved to Elkhart, IN on August 19, 2015.

I preached my first sermon as a newly ordained minister on August 23, 2015.

I was installed at First Congregational Church on November 23, 2015, the anniversary of my mother’s death.

Now, here I am eight years later, and it feels like very little time has passed at all.

I will admit that ordained life isn’t what I thought it was going to be. Even though I took worship classes and preaching classes, these are skills that I now realize develop over time. I have discovered that I LOVE writing liturgy. Finding the right words to convey a particular message is a challenge a enjoy facing every week. And while we were taught certain practices in both worship and preaching, I have since discovered that each one of us develops our own system for getting these things done every week.

Another area that I think I struggled with in the beginning is “pastoral care.” Clinical Pastoral Education in a hospital setting, nor having a masters in social work truly prepares you for the kinds of things people come and talk to you about. Nor do these skills help you develop what I now call “ministerial presence” which enables you to go to someone’s home, knock on the door, and invite yourself in for a visit. I would never go unannounced and have improved in my ability to do home and hospital visits, but this is one aspect of the “job” that may always be difficult for me. I do, however, like writing cards, so I always have that to lean on.

There is also the challenge that is facing all denominations right now, that of church attendance decline. It is frustrating. I grew up in the South and church attendance was non-negotiable. Today, though, there are so many school and extra-curricular activities that happen on Sunday, many families opt not to attend church. What I have learned, though, is that small churches can be vital churches. We still manage to do a lot of good in our community and beyond. Would I like our church to grow? Sure, I would. I believe that what we stand for, what I preach, and what we have to offer in the way of communal support is vitally important to our community. But I believe that every person needs to make their own decision regarding participation in a Community of Faith.

The work that I get to do for First Congregational Church, UCC is wonderful on its own, but it is also enhanced by my active participation in our Association and Conference. I have been blessed with opportunities to serve the wider church, all of which have made me a better minister. Writing the worship liturgy for our Conference Annual Gathering is always one of the top highlights of the year for me. What a gift.

As I think about what the next 8 years will hold, I am excited about all the possibilities. There are mountains of theology to still study and discern. We have much to discuss in Sunday School as we try to solve the world’s problems. There are more people to help, more school facial tissue to purchase, and more love to give to one another. I am hoping to graduate with my Doctor of Ministry degree in May of 2025. I know after completing that I’ll need a break, so I’m hoping for a sabbatical at that time. But then it is right back to work.

It is my hope and my prayer that you will stick with me and that as a congregation you will continue to grow and be changed by the work we do together. Perhaps in our efforts to be more like Jesus, we can radically change Elkhart into a City that lives its tag line: A City with a Heart. Maybe, just maybe, it is up to us to teach others what true compassion is all about.

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