This week’s reflections are of a personal nature.
After just two weeks I understand why early circuit riders were people in their early twenties, and why they were called “worn out preachers” by their mid to late twenties. Certainly, the physical demands of 18th Century itineracy have been compensated for by modern technology, but there is another factor which I had not anticipated, nor do I recall any reading on the subject. The spiritual intensity and emotional investment in such work is something encountered only occasionally in parish ministry. It is such a complete involvement of body, mind, and soul that I have nothing with which to compare it.
What is experienced is not burn-out. Ther term worn-out is applicable. Burn-out implies insufficient reward for the energy invested. In this case, the rewards exceed the investment and entice one to go beyond the limits of what a mortal can naturally endure. The rewards are not found in the crowds…not in the hundreds…but in all the “ones.” It is the one teenage boy who is fiddling with a cell phone through the opening liturgy but is suddenly leaning forward on the edge of his seat absorbing every word of a twenty-five-minute sermon. It is kneeling in prayer with one middle-aged woman experiencing release and whispering in awe, “it all seems so real now.” It is the one little community with a handful of worshippers, who have been marginalized and oppressed by the professional church, who receive the word in power, realize a new beginning, and have an impact in the Kingdom far out of proportion to their size. You don’t do this for the crowds. You do it for all the “ones.”
Nonetheless, I am yielding to Prudence and rescheduling everything that would have been the third and final week of the circuit to head for the mountains. There are pressing matters to attend to there, like accompanying a grandchild on her first hike up to the waterfall, pausing occasionally to applaud the color change of maples and oaks.