Surprises Anyone?

Someone asked this morning about the “unpredictability” in ministry. Make that more general, “in life.” For reasons still awaiting discovery, that inquiry sent me to a few instances, some of which humorous, another poignant brushing up against sadness.

Not sure there’s any part of worship “riskier” than the Children’s Sermon. My first solo pastorate [solo means no clergy staff, which meant, at times, no one else to blame for the mishaps] required a Children’s Sermon. Never had “preached” one before. Was somewhere between cluelessness and fright. Asked some clergy buddies and one of them said he found effective an Everything Box. It was an old milk box. He had invited the kids to put something important to them in the box and then use that as the start [at least] of a Children’s Sermon.

I applied my creative paint-the-box-touch, dabbled about 6 different colors. I figure “colorful” could suggest “effective and relevant.” Then. An admission more than 40 years after, I would look in the box on Saturday and pick out the Children’s Sermon. Easy, peasy.


One Sunday—why do we remember the surprises?—a little kid walked up during the prelude and jammed his stuffed animal into the box, so it was impossible, short of his intemperate possible response, to avoid “his favorite thing.” Truth here? I had NO idea in the world what his thing was…maybe a replica of Saswatch! Invited the children up and HE made sure he sat right in front of me, his eyes of “I dare you to avoid my favorite thing!” A laser beam glare. What should I do? I picked up Saswatch and in a move that was more desperate than creative, asked him, “Does your friend have a name?” Ah. I’m so glad he didn’t say Herod or Judas. Forget what it was…but somehow, in the riskiest moment in worship, we all survived. And the laser glare turned into a beaming smile.

The other moment that comes to mind is how music can sometimes “make” the worship…or “destroy it.” That can be because the organist plays hymns at a glacial pace…or a soloist shrieks more than sings. Remember the latter. In my home church, Zion Congregational Church in Portland, Oregon, a church member [to whom “no” never worked] offered to sing. Her soprano voice could shatter wine glasses. One August Sunday morning, temperatures pushed 100. No air conditioning units available, so all windows were opened to their fullest.

She sang her usual…”Ava Maria.” As she was about to shriek the highest note, a house fly flew into her mouth. I know a reach and probably never to be said, but possibly that was an act of God. Fortunately all wine glasses were out of sight.

Another surprise that was lucky. And yet, sad but very fortunate. A young couple and I were visiting about their up-coming wedding. The bride-to-be was very “up and happy.” The groom-to-be never looked up. Disconsolate was an apt description. Something was wrong. I asked him, “You look sad…is there something wrong?”

Her smile got lost in a glare. He looked at me, “I am a truck driver and don’t make much money. I have saved for months and bought her the best engagement ring I could afford. Her mother looked at it, found it unacceptable, went back to the jewelry store and bought her a more expensive engagement ring.”

Gotta say it. Damn. But. At least the engagement was dropped and the wedding never happened. Which in my mind’s eye…was a good thing.




How about you?

About Mark H Miller

Diane and I live in Leander, Texas. This past June 17, 2015 I celebrated the 49th anniversary of my ordination. We returned to Texas after three years in Washington, during which I served as interim minister in Bellevue/Eastgate and Mercer Island. Am planning to begin a 5th novel that will have my protagonist, Tricia Gleason, serve a year in licensed ministry in Snoqualmie, Washington. The novel, "The Lemon Drop Didn't Melt," will find Tricia wrestling with ministry challenges. None of which more daunting than someone wanting her breathing to stop. All the published novels are available on Amazon and Amazon Kindle under Mark Henry Miller. A primary goal in our return to Texas is to make sure grandchildren get lots of attention--here and in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Traveling is definitely an activity that will not slow down. With that, of course, fishing will happen. To that the t-shirt is apt, "I fish; therefore I am." In addition to novels, the book of Blogs, "Voice Of My Heart," is also available on Amazon.
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