Faculty View | Seasons
by Rev. Grant Lowe, chaplain
Joe Lazzaro was in his late sixties when I was called to Second Congregational Church in Peabody, Massachusetts, as a twenty-eight-year-old seminary graduate. He was every bit the Italian that his name indicated. He held my then two-year-old daughter every Sunday, perched comfortably on his large belly. When it was time to go home he would return her, and his cologne came with her. Joe and his wife, Peg, were a snapshot of the church: former Catholics, ready to serve behind the scenes, less than excited about change, and pretty sure that they would be at the church long after the new pastor had come and gone. Ministry in New England is complex. Churches have histories that unfold to you over cups of coffee and at kitchen tables. People have hurts, joys, needs that you see only with time. The church building was postcardesque, replete with white steeple, red carpet, oak pews, the hymn numbers from the previous Sunday affixed to the wall, a Hammond organ, and a woman who played it like it was the seventh inning stretch at Fenway Park. And they protected that sanctuary like it was the holy of holies. The family that gathered inside was full of broken people being slowly transformed by a loving God. I made a lot of mistakes. I hurt some people. I angered others. I cried with people. I prayed with people. I did a lot of funerals and was grateful that God allowed me to walk with families in death. Some people left the church. New people came. College students joined, and today they are the leadership in that church. Through it all, I preached as faithfully as I knew how. I was and am grateful. Despite my weaknesses, God used me there for a season. My plan was to grow old with the church; God’s plan was to take us to a PCA church plant in Pasadena, California, after ten years.
Andrew Fike—a Texas native passionate for ministering to the homeless—was an MDiv student at Fuller Seminary. We met at the church I was called to pastor in Old Town Pasadena. We played softball, surfed, shot pool, ate breakfast burritos, talked long hours, prayed, and walked through good and bad together. We eventually ended up on staff at the church together. I married Andrew and his now wife, Katie, in a park frequented by the homeless. Pasadena is nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains on the northern cusp of Los Angeles County. Hollywood is next door. Ministry in California was different. Snapshot California. Snapshot New England. Little in common, except people made in the image of God, who need Jesus. There, too, were sins and joys and lives being transformed. I walked with people. I prayed with people. There were weddings, but no funerals. And I preached God’s living, life-transforming Word. I was grateful God chose to use me for another season, a shorter, more intense, more painful, and in many ways more beautiful season. Like a Kansas thunderstorm that comes with awful power and beauty. Once again, my plan was to grow old in California. On paper it worked. But God had other plans.
I write now from my office in the basement of Carter Hall on the campus of Covenant College. This is the middle of my fourth year serving as chaplain of the college of the Presbyterian Church in America. I am still a pastor and still a preacher. Only now I walk in the midst of a thousand college students, who are amazing and thoughtful and wise and mature and thoughtless and foolish and immature all at the same time, while they figure out what it means to follow Jesus. I have the greatest job in the world, as I get to point them to Him. I’m forty-six now, and I know myself a little bit better and I know Jesus a little bit better. I feel the weight of my words a little more acutely and my inadequacy a little more clearly.
When I left our church in California, my wife and I prayed, “Lord, take us somewhere where you can use us.” In this new season, I know God can use me, and I’m starting to believe that He actually wants to.
Joe Lazzaro died last year. Andrew and Katie Fike had a little girl, Adeline Mae. And my daughter Henri comes to Covenant College as a freshman next fall. So for a sinner saved by grace with nothing to boast in, I boast in this place to which I’m called and in the risen savior who gives me life and who called me here.