I will admit that the past 14 months have been the toughest months of my ministry and marriage. I am hanging on but most days, it has felt like I am barely hanging on.
I was ordained in June and married in November, 1985. I made vows to Jesus and Susan within five months of each other and I have tried to live life in covenant with each of them ever since. It has been a covenantal juggling act at times. In the past 14 months, it has pushed me to the limits of my juggling abilities.
In 1987, I was visiting with my colleague and friend, the Rev. Dr. Elam Wiest as he recovered from surgery. On the door of his room was a sign, “Minister Keep Out.” When I approached, I knocked and I called out, “Who is it?” I answered, “Tim Ahrens.” He said, “Can’t you read the sign? It says, ‘no minister allowed.’” I yelled back because he was hearing impaired, “I can read. But I still want to see you.” He replied, “Come in. You are barely a minister anyway. You are so young, you don’t what you are doing.” I came bouncing in. “Thanks Dr. Wiest.”
There by his bedside was his wife, Winnie. Elam introduced us and told me it was their 65th Anniversary. I congratulated them and having been married only two years, I inquired, “What is the secret to 65 years of life together?” Elam answered, “Well, we have had good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, good months and bad months, good years and bad years.” He turned to Winne and asked, “What day is today?” She answered, “Tuesday.” Elam looked back at me and said, “Well, it looks like we are one day ahead being better together.” At that response, Winnie punched him in the shoulder. Elam winched and said, “maybe I spoke too soon.”
After 35 years, six months, one week and one day, I can relate to Winne and Elam more now than ever before. This pandemic has challenged everything in my mind and spirit to find a way forward. I feel like I am just one day ahead with my church and my wife. But the punch in the shoulder is coming.
I imagine I am not alone.
I imagine that you too have been pressed to the limit in mind and spirit during the pandemic. Even as we are coming closer to the end of this year which has seen 32,722,000+ COVID-19 cases and over 582,260 American deaths due to COVID-19, I feel like there are still so many challenges to negotiate in relationship to church, spouse and everyone else. Mixed signals, changing mandates, potential super- spreaders, Indian variants, return to worship, and negotiations with everyone every day for how to greet, where to meet, and how to eat – its’ truly mind and spirit twisting and turning. Prayer helps. But therapy really helps. I know I am not supposed to admit that as a man of God. But I must be honest. I still feel like I am on a loopy nonstop version of Disney World’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Today I offer this pray: May the God of Winne and Elam, the “one-day-ahead” God of us all, keep us sane and hopeful; laughing and living; pressing on know God’s love in all we say and do. And may the signs which say, “Ministers Keep Out” cause us to softly knock and ask, “Can I come in? I am barely a minister.”
Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens
The Rev. Dr. Tim Ahrens is Senior Minister of The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio where he has served since January 2000. Ordained in 1985, Tim is a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ.