Soon after accepting a call to serve Zion United Church of Christ in Burlington, Iowa, I looked at the church’s address—412 North Fifth Street. At the time I was serving St. Paul’s UCC at 236 West Fifth Street in Minonk, Illinois, after serving the United Church of Tilton, Illinois, at 520 West Fifth Street. Excluding all of my short-term and temporary church-related jobs, every full-time church I served had a Fifth Street address. Purely a coincidence, I’m sure.
A first parish surely always makes a deep impression on a minister, for good or ill, but often in deep and tender impressions. The morning I announced my resignation from the United Church of Tilton, I tearfully expressed my gratitude to the congregation for its loving support over the ten years I had known them. I spoke of the major changes we had gone through and predicted the obvious—that more changes would come. At that moment lightning struck the church, creating an impressive flash in the air above the area where the congregation sat. It didn’t do any damage, but it sure emphasized my point.
Over a career I have interviewed with many congregations and organizations for different positions, especially in those years when I was just getting started and had little experience. For a while I thought I was getting enough background with interviews that I was learning how to do it, but then came three interviews in which I fell one vote short of having the unanimous vote that those committees required. The most disappointing decision came from South Haven, Michigan. The whole situation seemed too good to be true. The congregation’s program and its needs appeared to be a perfect fit, the church building and its parsonage were in good condition, the committee was responsive and cordial, and South Haven sat on the shore of our beloved Lake Michigan, not far from where we vacationed for many years. It was perfect. The one vote against me came from the woman who provided our overnight accommodations in her home. I never was a morning person, but I was on my best behavior. I was severely disappointed when I learned the outcome.
When I accepted the call to go to St. Paul’s in Minonk a short time later, and we looked at the parsonage once again, I looked across the street and saw the new senior citizen apartment complex. Its name was South Haven. Sometimes God’s sense of humor is just too much.