A Week in the Life of a DS

One of our district pastors shared in his church’s newsletter about recent health concerns that have been attributed to stress.  He wasn’t seeking sympathy but rather attempted to draw his congregation into a deeper understanding of the connectedness of life and our ability to see the blessings that are all around us.

I was moved by the courage of my colleague to lead with his heart and invite his church members to see beyond the preacher to the very human person that he is.  It reminded me of a meeting of the Grand Rapids District Superintendency Committee a week ago.  This elected group of lay and clergy persons functions like the Staff (Pastor) Parish Relations Committee in a local church.  We meet 4 times a year to talk about how things are going in the district and how I can grow in my ministry of leading, coaching, supervising, and serving the needs of pastors and churches.

Some members of the committee expressed the fact that few people know exactly what a district superintendent does.  Other than conduct annual church conferences, visit churches on Sunday morning, meet with SPRCs when churches are in conflict, or magically present a congregation with a new pastor, the superintendent is a mysterious figure who seems to be awfully busy doing something.

So here goes my version of “A Week in the Life of a DS.”

Monday, May 3

“Grant me daily the grace of gratitude, to be thankful for all my many gifts, and so be freed from artificial needs, that I might lead a joyful, simple life.”  Edward Hays, A Book of Wonders

  • This is a rare office day without wall to wall appointments, so I can catch up after a 3 day cabinet meeting the week before.  It’s even possible to celebrate the birthdays of several staff members in the conference center.
  • I am speaking at a Grand Rapids Metropolitan Ministries board meeting tomorrow night, so I’m hoping to find a chunk of time today to read and write.
  • A pastor drops by to schedule a church conference to purchase a building.  I contact pastors about personal, health, and church concerns and make phone calls to arrange introductory meetings of new pastors.  I have long conversations with a pastor’s spouse and an SPRC chair.
  • I start backing up my computer to the conference server at 3:10 p.m. so that I can leave at 3:30 p.m. for the Superintendency meeting at Coopersville UMC. Our tech person says that my lap top bogs down the server because I have about 37,000 files (every conversation needs to be documented and every email saved).  Because it takes 30 minutes to back up today, and I have to detour the construction on I-196, I arrive at the meeting 15 minutes late.  Not good.
  • In the early evening Gary and I take a long walk on a gorgeous spring night – my Sabbath time.  I finish my day by finding that chunk of time to work on the Metro presentation. 

Tuesday, May 4

“Be strong and of good courage, and act.
Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.”  I Chronicles 28:20 (David to Solomon about building the temple)

  • My morning is taken up with a meeting with a pastor, a 2 hour meeting of the Africa University Task force, and a lunch meeting with a retired clergy.
  • In the afternoon, I glance at the huge pile of papers on my desk that has accumulated since Christmas.   Knowing that I won’t have time to sort through any of it until after annual conference, I look away with disgust and start returning phone calls.
  • At the Metro Ministry board meeting I speak about images of the city.  Our new collaborative partnership, Communities of Shalom, and a big Rethink event inGrand Rapidson August 7 will no doubt be transformative for the city as well as our churches.
  • I stop at a park on the way home to return 4 phone messages and watch the sun set.

Wednesday, May 5

“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.  The mind that is not baffled is not employed.  The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
Wendell Berry, Collected Poems

  • Every day as a superintendent brings new challenges as well as a gentle reminder that grace shows us a path, even when we are unsure of the way.
  • After a breakfast meeting, I consult with several DS’s for a few hours.  Then I dash off to Clark Retirement Community to participate in a meeting concerning the hiring of a new chaplain.
  • I return to the office to make phone calls and work on appointment-making details.  I’d be lost withoutLiz Bode, our amazingly efficient district administrative assistant.
  • 2 special joys complete my day: I send Mother’s day cards and personal notes to my mother and mother-in-law.  Then I mow the lawn, which I absolutely love to do.  It satisfies my need for completion and control, which is not easy to find in the ministry of a superintendent! 

Thursday, May 6

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you.  Don’t go back to sleep.” Jalaluddin Rumi

  • I am so intent on listening to God at dawn that I forget my cell phone, so I have to turn around and return home to get it.  The caricature of DS’s with cell phones and ear pieces permanently attached to them is true.  Am I defined solely by my phone and computer? 
  • I meet with a pastor in the morning and attend the Conference Board of Pensions meeting in the afternoon.
  • In the late afternoon I meet with a pastor and spouse for dinner and then have an introductory meeting with the SPRC committee.  God is most certainly in the midst of our cabinet discernment, and I am amazed at the commitment of our pastors, their willingness to go where sent, and the graciousness of churches in welcoming and accepting their new pastor.

Friday, May 7

“Rest, Rest, Rest in God’s love.  The only work you are required now to do is to give your most intense attention to God’s still, small voice within.” 17th century mystic Jeanne Guyon

  • Friday is intended to be my day off.  However, I work on this essay, visit a retired pastor in the hospital, and have a dinner meeting to plan our Communities of Shalom Commissioning service in June.
  • It’s difficult for me to stop, especially when the needs are great.  That’s why I made a commitment in 2001 to take a retreat week away from Grand Rapidsevery year.  It is a time to slow down, reconnect with God, engage in self-examination, and focus on my spiritual life.  During the week that I will be gone, May 11-18, I will be praying constantly for you, and I humbly ask for your prayers for me as well.

Saturday, May 8

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

  • I run in the 25 kilometer Riverbank Run in the morning (brrrrr!), meet with a pastor and SPRC committee in the afternoon, and catch up on emails and paperwork in the evening.

Sunday, May 9

“Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.”
Norman Vincent Peale

  • I attend worship at a district church and conduct a church conference afterwards to approve the salary for the new pastor who will arrive on July 1.
  • In the afternoon I prepare for a Monday cabinet conference call and meet with a pastor and SPRC committee in the evening.

It’s been a full and rich week.  The work is never done, so I learn to find moments of sabbath in each day.  The issues that face superintendents are complex, the dilemmas are not easily resolved, and we can never make everyone happy.  I am honored, however, to work with pastors and lay people who are much more capable and faithful than I am.  Every day God whispers in my ear, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  I Corinthians 12:9

May your week be filled with grace as you lead with your heart. 

Blessings, Laurie

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