In the 1950’s Rhoda and I were appointed and supported by the Eastern Mennonite Board to serve as mission superintendent and pastor of a small city mission church in Tampa, Florida.
I have sometimes described my informal role in the community as that of a small-bit lawyer, i.e. I was an advocate for people in times of trouble with the law. Rhoda and I sometimes acted as if we were health care workers, family counselors, social service workers, temporary foster parents, and taxi drivers. We charged no fees for our services. We were known as Brother and Sister Lehman.
When requested, we provided bed and breakfast for tourists and were sometimes tourist guides. Besides this, I preached a sermon on most Sundays and sometimes two sermons. We both taught Sunday School classes, held mid-week prayer meetings, held cottage meetings, told stories, and led singing. We served as janitors of our little church next door. As a part of our mission assignment Rhoda was a substitute teacher and I was bus driver for Sharon School.
Besides we were parents of a little daughter whom many of you know as Rachel. Her playmates were neighborhood children. She was a young and efficient hostess who delighted in entertaining our guests with the stories she told.
In the 1960s I had a role in the Southeast that had me walking beside other mission superintendents and pastors in the Southeast. I tell you all of this to say that I appreciate small churches and their pastors. This is the part of the church where innovation occurs.
You may have noticed that I have temporarily moved an old post “The Church is Like a Tree.” to be first in the posts. I wished to make it easier for readers to find it. There was a time that the post was among the most popularly read on the website.
In that post I wrote that the roots were described as “local, simple, living-faith communities where beliefs are developed and nurtured. Persecution and hardship are experienced by these communities. Ernest prayers are offered, and if a miracle happens, it is experienced among the roots. Life-giving nutrients are gathered by the roots from the soil for the tree’s growth. Eschatological hope is alive among the roots.”
I feel that as a pastor I served among the roots. However, though the experience was good for me, and I did as much good as I could, I know now that I was not well prepared for my role as a pastor. I had been reared in the home of an aggressively progressive pastor, brought to faith in a small but progressive church, and attended high school in the conservative Eastern Mennonite School. For almost two years I related to other kinds of Mennonites in Civilian Public Service. After CPS I married an exceptionally gifted and gracious woman who aided me. She excelled me in formal training.
In “The Church is Like a Tree” I wrote that a healthy tree has an abundance of leaves far above the ground’s surface where they are exposed to rain, sun, and air. According to Berry, the leaves can be a metaphor for the part of the church which is privileged to engage in scholarly, scientific research and the open exchange of information and testing of ideas. The leaves like the roots gather and process nutrients needed for growth and bearing fruit.”
Before going to Tampa as a pastor I had learned to enjoy an open exchange of information and testing of ideas. But, I had never been privileged to engage in scholarly scientific research. That lack limited me then, and limits me still.