Midwifing the Future

After taking one look at my face last week, a friend patted me on the arm and said comfortingly: “You know what they say. Getting back to work after vacation is like sitting on the couch for months and getting up one day to run a marathon.”

While I can guarantee you that I will never run a marathon—ever, I have been in the process of getting back to work after a desperately needed vacation this summer.

I spent most of the first week back getting caught up with latest developments, reconnecting with staff, and sorting through paperwork. While these tasks took a decided toll on my post-vacation zen, I noticed that my energy reserves significantly started flagging as (it seemed to me) folks emailed or lined up in person to tell me about various problems that had popped up in my absence.

You know, normal church, just in concentrated form.

I had just spent my weeks of vacation softening the sharp edges of some of my first-year-of-work memories, missing people I’ve already come to love, and remembering the hope and optimism and possibility swirling all around and throughout this amazing church. But it felt to me like I’d walked straight into a constant barrage of negative reports and bad behavior, and, as a matter of fact, I did begin to feel a bit like a couch potato marathoner by the end of that first week back.

So on week two I started out for work, steeling myself for more problems to solve, more crises to navigate, more stores of optimism dipping to alarming lows. Into my office came my first congregational appointment of the day, an octogenarian member I knew but with whom I had never had the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time in conversation.

She bustled into my office, settled herself on my couch, and pulled out a collection of papers, including a coversheet with a list of scribbled conversation points.

I waited.

midwifing the futureShe started, “You know, there is a group of us who get together by conference call every Tuesday morning at 6:30 to pray. We started this little group last year when you came to be our pastor, because we wanted to pray for you. As you start your second year here, we all know it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of change, and it’s so exciting, but some people are unhappy. So before you get overwhelmed by all the grumbling, I wanted to tell you that we are praying for you.”

I didn’t know.

Then she shuffled her pile of papers and handed me a creased paper with a numbered list. “Here’s our list of things we pray about,” she said. “You can see you’re there, on the list. We’re serious about praying for you.”

I’m not sure if she noticed, but tears started to well up in my eyes. I’d been expecting more problems to solve, yet another assault on the positive progress all over the church that I was beginning to think only I could see.

As she got ready to leave, this congregant said, “We know there is dissention, and some people are grumbling about change. But we are praying. And we are taking our job seriously. We feel that we are like midwives—we’re midwifing the future of this church we love.”

And it was here, in a moment of grace like this one, that I began to remember what I should have known all along: none of us ever does the work of gospel community alone.

We are, together, midwifing the future.

15 Comments on “Midwifing the Future

  1. So how do you get to be a part of this Tuesday morning prayer group.
    We are all praying for you and with you. For us and with us. For one Riverside and with one Riverside.

    • This is touching and I am so happy to know there are strong, positive, supportive women out in our congregation who really care about the growth of our incredible church.
      We all have so very much to be thankful for, especially this beautiful church.

  2. those moments are priceless. I was an orphan at 14 – left and forgotten in the world. Became self-pitying, and angry (against my nature as judy collins is role model). When the group home went to a mall as an outing a woman yelled out my name… She grabbed me and was utterly amazed I was alive (I had nearly been killed and jailed as custom in those days for getting away from homicidal mother). I think she cried and said she had been praying for me for months… For the first time in my life I had no response. I looked at her, as I had numbed emotional pain with drugs for years, and asked, “Excuse me, but WHO ARE YOU?” She looked at me, and said “Don’t you remember me? I was the office worker in your school…” I’ve never been a child or angry since.

  3. Dear Pastor Amy:

    You are doing a great job as Senior Minister of The Riverside Church. There are a lot of people at The Riverside Church doing a lot of different things all of which they think are important. Some of them have to be ignored. There is no way you can respond to every request and complaint. I’m praying for you too. God bless you!


    John Slorance

  4. Reblogged this on christinejbaxter.net and commented:
    There is an old saying in the church that says if you are looking for a new Pastor start praying for the one that you’ve got. Amy Butler of The Riverside Church has been blessed with prayers since she became the new Pastor. We should all be so blessed.

  5. You are indeed blessed to have such a group. There are others who pray for you as well who have only had the opportunity to visit Riverside just one or two times and I am one of those people. I am on a grief journey of my own and I have been praying for you since you started at Riverside.

  6. Thanks Amy. As I have been navigating my own week as a Pastor this really helped. My deep desire to run when I see certain people approaching is outweighed by those who truly, and lovely, do help to lift us up.

  7. believe me, there are so many people praying for you and Riverside. Let us know what people are complaining about, we will pray even more!

  8. Doctor Butler

    You and I have not met yet but I was a member of Riverside for a number of years prior to your selection as the present minister of Riverside. I also am praying for you. I try to keep up with events in the church via friends and watch the services via the internet.
    I now live in upstate New York (near the Canadian border) near Niagra Falls and miss the church a lot.

    I do not envy you the job you have undertaken but I really think you are the one to do it!
    I will continue to pray for you and with you. God will be with you and I will be presently from afar.

    peace be with you
    Barbara Minarcik

  9. My dear sister in Christ. These are the moments-when we least expect, that God and God’s kingdom come crashing into your world and we are reminded of an incarnational Love. I have no doubt this has happened and believe that angels came to visit. Hang in there. Dl+

  10. Amy, Thank you for sharing. So very often, we all carry a heavy burden on our sholders and often believe that we are the only ones carrying the load. But thanks be to God for the dedicated parishioners at Riverside and all of our churches that continue to pray for their pastors, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. Their ministry of encouragement to us cannot be measured!

  11. My wife Desiree made an interesting observation last week after service. We were preparing dinner together when she turned to me and said that she happily noticed that Riverside felt more Christ centered than ever. As you may know, Desiree sings in the professional octet at Madison Avenue Presby, and so she only gets to attend Sunday service at Riverside in August, when she’s on vacation from her Madison Avenue gig. So she notices changes that we regulars may not be aware of. Much is changing at Riverside, but I think Desiree’s observation captures the essence of it. All change, even positive change, disturbs us. And even in his own time, Christ asked people to make some disturbing changes in living and thinking and being. Or may a better word than change is growth. Growth always involves growing pains, but living is growing, isn’t it?

  12. The prayers or the righteous are never forsaken. Unceasing prayer leads us into God-centered work. God bless you, Pastor Amy.

  13. The prayers of the righteous are never forsaken. Unceasing prayer leads us into God-centered work. God bless you, Pastor Amy.

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