So perhaps I am creating a new word as I try a new practice. For a lot of people, they craft New Year’s resolutions but I am trying a two-part movement of looking back and looking forward and attempting to make an honest evaluation of what happened so that my plan going into 2018 can be based on an evaluation of where I am and where I have been. So, the first part of this I’ve called a retrospectus, a document looking back, and the second part will be a prospectus which is a plan going forward.
2017 was a challenging year, a good year in many respects, hard in several others and full of unexpected twists and turns.
Professionally: This was a year where it felt like a lot of weight fell on my shoulders. It isn’t that I was alone or I didn’t have other people working with me on various projects, but as a leader it was a year that tested my resilience. It was a year that started full of expectations, we completed the design of the expansion for my congregation and there was a lot of optimism beginning the year. One of the points of drag was the approval process with the city of Frisco. In fairness, due to the sale of some land and the necessity to re-zone our property in addition to having to resubmit both an updated site plan in addition to the plans for expansion it was a complicated set of things going on (while at the same time having the plans and approval process for a stealth cell tower going on at the same time). What was expected to be a six to eight-week process of approval dragged out into almost nine months, much of that time I had very little power to impact the speed of the process. The delay in time also led to an increase in cost of almost $200,000 because of material cost increases over the period. For those who don’t know about the Frisco/McKinney area it is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States and because of that resources like concrete and steel continue to climb in cost due to the regional demand. We the funds available to cover the original cost of expansion but the increase meant working with our lender to secure a loan for the additional costs. In many respects each hurdle wasn’t difficult to pass but it was the sheer number of hurdles that came up before we ever broke ground that seemed to sap some of the energy and enthusiasm of the project. We finally broke ground in the summer and the project was moving along when we reached the next delay prior to pouring the foundation. As I mentioned briefly above we had two projects going on at the same time, the expansion in addition to the construction of a cell tower site (designed to look like a bell tower). The cell tower company was supposed to reroute the sewer lines to go around both the tower and the expansion, but the lines were twelve feet underground, and the ground after about six to eight inches is rock. They built their tower without moving the line and the city of Frisco wouldn’t allow our expansion to continue until the line was moved. This delayed us for another four to six weeks, but the sewer line was eventually rerouted, the work commenced and going into 2018 the project still has some ways to go but we can see the end in sight and I know I am excited to see the end of the process. The crew working on the expansion has been great, but it is impossible for an ongoing construction and renovation process not to impact the life of a congregation.
I also felt like I never got a break this year. Normally summer is a time where I can reset after one year before going into the next but in addition to the building project several other challenges prevented me from doing so. One was staffing related. I only have two additional staff members that are present during the week: one admin and one youth minister. The month of June my admin was unavailable while she was pursuing her passion in opera in New York City, and so the month of June I was doing both my normal roles (with the building project) and ensuring that her portion of the work to prepare the congregation for worship was also done each week. During the same time my youth minister was married and on his honeymoon. Later in the summer my youth minister’s new wife had surgery which had a very extended recovery so through most of the summer I had him available sporadically. Then in the fall my youth minister availability was limited due to Clinical Pastoral Education, a part of his seminary process where he works in a hospital. Finally, in December, for the first two weeks, my administrator was in New York again to perform in an opera during one of the busiest times in the church year. Through the second half of the year it felt like an additional burden of keeping the church going fell upon my shoulders. I was able to take a few breaks in the fall, but ultimately it was a year where I never found a rhythm of rest to go along with the periods of increased work.
Finally, one of the last professional stressors was that in the summer, for the first time, the congregation began to experience some financial stress. Rejoice is a community that deals with a lot of transition and the previous couple of years were heavier than most of the congregation’s life. The congregation had seen approximately 1/3 of its membership move out of the area in less than two years. We had done a lot of things to build in some financial resilience for the congregation, but this level of transition had us seeing negative balances regularly at the end of the month for the first time in the four year I had served them. Construction impacts attendance as well as the number of new families that visit or stay with a congregation. It was a time when I had to evaluate my own leadership. We made some hard choices, but I feel optimistic about the future for the congregation and some of the directions we set at the end of the year.
There were a lot of cool things professionally this year: Probably my favorite was the beginning of an Interfaith group for the Frisco area. Even though I felt called to do this I wanted for someone else to begin and lead this. Ultimately, I stepped out and placed the idea before some other leaders. It has been a phenomenal group to be a part of and to lead. I also started as Dean of my conference, the churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the Northern suburbs of Dallas up to the Oklahoma border. I also was asked to be a part of one of the advisory committees for Frisco ISD. I’ve enjoyed having a more public presence in the community although at times it does feel like a challenge to keep everything organized.
Writing: I enjoy writing but with all my other commitments in my professional and personal life this year it seems like I didn’t write as much as in previous years. I can tend to be a little overly ambitious sometimes, but writing is one of those activities that I am proud of. There are a couple of really interesting pieces this year. My personal favorites were Djinn’s Warning and To Catch an Albatross. Trying to write some light fiction using my dogs as characters was good (and I realize there are a few holes in the story) but it took a lot of time to write each chapter-but I enjoyed particularly chapters two and three of Shimar the Pirate dog. I also use writing as a part of my learning process to grow in my knowledge as a pastor. This year was primarily spent with the book of Exodus, and I learned a lot from this. It is a longer book, and one that many people know portions of but I know I gained some insights from this process of working through Exodus. Overall there were approximately seventy items written in addition to the weekly sermons, normal publications for church related items, etc. Yet, I feel like some of my creativity has dropped off but I have some ideas for the prospectus side of this.
Personal: I am very blessed to be married to Carissa and even though this was a tough work year for both of us I enjoy the time we are able to spend together. At this point we have been married for 2 ½ years and I am glad she was willing to come join me in this crazy life. The big change for me this year was my son starting college at the University of Central Oklahoma this fall. I have been the primary caretaker and guardian for Aren since 2009, with Jessica living with her mom in Oklahoma. It has been different not adjusting my schedule around his schedule and there are times where the house is quieter than I am used to. I am proud of him but the transition was harder on me than I anticipated. I have paid for his first year of college and that in itself is an accomplishment. Carissa and I went to a number of concerts and musicals this year and I finally went to a (now) LA Chargers game, which I had wanted to do for years. It was an expensive year with needing to put a new roof on my house after the April hail storms and then having my furnace die at Christmas, but I have a new roof on my home and a new HVAC system and somehow have continued to make it all work.