Bob Madsen, Regional Presbyter for South Alabama and Mississippi Presbyteries
“What do you do for fun?”
That was a question my doctor used to ask during my annual wellness exam and during most visits in between. The first time he asked, he took me by surprise. I was at a loss for an answer. It was not something I had thought much about. I took a few moments, running through the things I like to do and picked one.
“I like to ride the lawn tractor,” I replied.
“That’s not fun,” he said, “but if you like it you can come to my house.”
The reason I was at a loss when he first asked the question is because 1) I don’t have a lot of hobbies; 2) things I do for fun (yard work and home repairs) don’t qualify as fun for most people; and I enjoyed the work I was doing as a minister so, work was fun.
In the same way, the list of things for which I am grateful in the lives of the two presbyteries I serve will likely sound routine. But for me, they evoke a sense of gratitude.
I am grateful for the colleagues I have on the administrative side of church life. Susan Sumrall is invaluable in her work in Mississippi Presbytery. I depend heavily upon Julee Howard (administrative assistant in South Alabama) and South Alabama’s stated clerk, Al Thompson.
I am also grateful for my colleagues in ministry in our churches. Since assuming this position, I have had the opportunity to worship rather than lead worship and have enjoyed hearing the preaching of others and discovering elements of liturgy that were previously unknown to me. It has given me a chance to grow in my worship life.
Having been a solo pastor for more than half my years in ministry, it is a pleasure to benefit from the wisdom of those same colleagues as we do the work of the church at the presbytery level. As Presbyterians, we are proud of our polity and our conviction that we do our most faithful work when we do it together. We all know, however, that working together is sometimes one person working while the others get together. The work of our presbyteries is undertaken by capable people, of various callings and backgrounds, and they undertake that work faithfully.
Both presbyteries have a number of smaller churches that are served either by commissioned ruling elders, stated supply pastors (often retired ministers continuing in service), or week by week pulpit supply. I am grateful for the dedication of members who make sure worship and other vital ministries continue despite limited resources and smaller membership.
All of which is to say, I am grateful to be serving in this position. I am grateful for the opportunity to be of use to others – other ministers and other churches – and I hope and pray that I am of use. The day to day is sometimes mundane. But it is important.
On a number of occasions, I have shared a passage of scripture that really transformed how I approach work in the church. It is from Ecclesiastes. I encountered it when I thought I wanted to be Dr. Madsen, but before I found out how hard that process was and became content with Mr. It was in a course on post-exilic texts:
Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the [ones] whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
On my better days, I remember that wisdom and it gives rise to joy and gratitude for even that which is mundane.