“They look like they are playing tag”

Author’s note: On the evening of Wednesday, November 24, I had the privilege of speaking at the Thanksgiving Eve Service at my church, Trinity United Methodist, in Richmond, Virginia. I was honored to participate.

I am honored to be with you this evening.

As you know, Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

I worry about Thanksgiving.

Our national day of giving thanks is sandwiched between an unforeseen rise in popularity of Halloween, and the maddening rush to Christmas. Seems to me that Thanksgiving is being slighted.

During the next few minutes, it would be very predictable for me to reference the short story by American writer, O. Henry—“Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen.”

Or site John Hughes’ classic holiday travel movie—Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Yes, I could take you to Mayberry.

Maybe, I could share some “brain sludge” with you about musicians who speak to my soul.

Perhaps, we could go back to the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, and I could recount for you the Thanksgiving lecture from my biology professor, Dr. Kemper Callahan.

I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’m not heading into those comfort zones.

No, I want us to think about two verses from chapter four of Ecclesiastes. Listen to verses nine and ten:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But, pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

I am no theologian. I am not going to get all tangled up in a deep theological discussion about these two verses.

But, I do want to cite some thoughts to the introduction of Ecclesiastes from the 1973 edition of the Revised Standard Version of The New Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha.

The editors state: “Ecclesiastes contains the reflections of a philosopher rather than a testimony of belief. The author seeks to understand by the use of reason the meaning of human existence and the good man can find in life.”

This past summer, my wife found some good in life—a beach cottage on Topsail Island, North Carolina that could hold our family.

There were twelve of us. In that twelve are our four grandchildren. Of course, those grandchildren have been spoiled rotten by their grandmother, who they with great affection call Nana.

Our grandchildren and our son, Topsail Island. Photo by Bill Pike

We had a good week of weather. Only one day was lost from the remnants of a frustrated tropical storm.

There was lots of beach time.

The ocean provided multiple experiences for our grandchildren. I enjoyed watching their reactions as their confidence increased a bit each day.

Most mornings, a section of the beach had several connecting tidal pools. The rise and fall of the tide also brought frantic minnows into those pools to scurry around.

Armed with a net and a colorful bucket, our oldest granddaughter, Caroline, was determined to catch some minnows.

She splashed in the tidal wash and lunged with her net toward the unsuspecting minnows. Her determination paid off.

Caroline snared a minnow. She promptly placed the minnow in her bucket.

For several minutes, Caroline watched the panicked minnow in the confinement of that bucket. It wasn’t long before she released the minnow back into the wilds of the Atlantic.

Another low rolling breaker filled up a tidal pool. Caroline watched three tiny minnows swimming aimlessly. As we watched their antics, Caroline said to me, “it looks like they are playing tag.”

Her observation was correct. My old brain held on to Caroline’s cherished words.

Right now, I think I could apply those words to our current human condition. No matter where I look, I sense we are playing tag with each other. We are disconnected, divided.

Our scripture from Ecclesiastes makes it clear— two connected are better than one. If we believe that wisdom, then why are we so committed on being disconnected and divided?

I’m an earlier riser. This past Veterans Day, I woke early. Just before I began my routine of reading the daily Upper Room devotion, something nudged me to turn on the television.

Our local PBS station was showing a four-part documentary: American Veterans. This segment was called: The Return.

I watched for several minutes. One Veteran’s story lingered with me. This young man described an important constant lesson from Sniper School training.

He shared this essential requirement—“never be further than an arm’s length from your partner.”

Currently, in our neighborhoods, cities, and states, we are further than an arm’s length from each other.

Why is this so hard for us to see?

Why are we reluctant to correct this distance, this divide between us?

Remember our friend, Ecclesiastes, tells us two are better than one.

My heart tells me our divide, our disconnect, our disunion is linked to a tiny four letter word—fear.

Yes, fear is often at the heart of how we respond.

Fear is powerful in its controlling grip.

And I have come to realize, that fear is well aware of its ability to impose its will on our thinking and our response.

In my role at Trinity, this cantankerous old building feels me with fear.

When is the cooling tower going to implode?

How much longer can we cheat this building from making much needed improvements to our infrastructure and aesthetic appearance?

I can’t tell you how many days I want to rush out to the front lawn along Forest Avenue and post a huge sign that reads— For Sale.

But, in reality, the most important fear driven question is not our grumpy building, but this—when will our congregation implode?

That’s right, I said it, when will our congregation implode?

Yes, COVID-19 has turned the world upside down.

No doubt, this pandemic has impacted churches.

But, churches in America and around the world were already facing challenges before COVID-19 appeared.

If you think Trinity is immune from the challenges facing churches, we are not.

We are impacted by what church observers call the “death tsunami” which means the passing of the greatest generation members. Often, these members were the financial sustainers of churches.

Our Sunday attendance is down.

Our financial giving is down.

Yes, we have lost members because of our response to the pandemic.

Yes, we have lost members because our United Methodist Church is not really united.

Yes, we have lost members because of our inability to live up to this Methodist motto: open hearts, open minds, open doors.

Right about now, I know what you are thinking.

You are thinking, Bill, give me a break.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I want to hear something uplifting, not your whining about fear and Trinity.

I appreciate your suggested course correction.

But, I want to give you one more thought for your heart to ponder.

My heart tells me that the most urgent challenge we face at Trinity, in our neighborhoods, our state, our country, and our world is this: our stubborn hearts are disconnected, divided, and unity feels impossible.

Remember that last verse from Ecclesiastes: “But, pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

We have fallen.

We know that two are better than one.

If we really know this, then why are we so unwilling to pick each other up from our disconnected, divided disunion?

Could it be that we are afraid to change our stubborn hearts?

My wife, the Commander Supreme, has tolerated my multiple stubborn habits for 46 years.

I am a pack rat. I hold on to things that touch my heart. Yes, one of my imperfections is my soft heart.

Since August 8, 2010, I have held in my Bible the bulletin from that Sunday worship service at Trinity.

Judy Oguich delivered the sermon that morning. The title of her sermon was “Loving Our Enemies.”

I held on to that bulletin because of the words in the opening prayer. I’m going to read the prayer now:

Holy God, as we gather for worship, we re-dedicate ourselves to Jesus, our Savior, and we re-discover ourselves in relation to you.

Re-orient our will with your will; renew our commitment to your purposes and revitalize our faith by the power of your Holy Spirit.

In your strength, enable us to drop our burdens and set aside our anxiety about life.

Let the confused find clarity; the sad, comfort; the frightened, boldness; the successful, humility; and the judgmental, compassion.

Soften and prepare our hearts to hear again your command to love even the unlovable and those at odds with us, and then help us to follow this and all your commands with joy and thanks. Amen

Every morning, I read a section of that prayer to myself. Those words speak to my imperfections.

I want to be better at being two rather than one.

I love Trinity, I love you, and even though quite often I struggle to understand God, and I know he struggles to understand me, I love God.

But, we can no longer be like minnows playing tag in a tidal pool.

We can no longer be at arm’s length from each other.

If you, me, we, us, all don’t come to our senses, this disconnect, this division, this disunion will be our end.

We must push our stubborn hearts to embrace the wisdom from Ecclesiastes: “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

Our path forward must be to help each other up.

The good Lord is counting on us to take this step.

There is no other choice.

Two are better than one.

Now, I haven’t forgotten that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

No matter your plans, I hope it is a good day.

And I hope that at some point tomorrow, you will find a quiet moment to reflect and to be thankful.

And when you pause, if you really think about Thanksgiving, you will come to realize that Thanksgiving in its own unique way is grounded in Ecclesiastes.

Thanksgiving isn’t one.

Thanksgiving is two.

Almost fifty years ago, when I was a clueless sophomore college student that’s what Dr. Kemper Callahan was planting in me.

I can’t be clueless any longer.

Like those minnows in the tidal pools, I can’t keep playing tag.

Two are better than one.

Fading sunset backside of Topsail Island. Photo by Bill Pike

Listening to the creaking in wounded hearts

A long time ago, some bright minds came up with an idea. These deep thinkers proposed damming up the Roanoke and Blackwater Rivers into the Smith Mountain Gorge.

In an area in the middle of nowhere between the Virginia cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg, this containment led to the development of Smith Mountain Lake. Construction on the dam started in 1960. By 1963, the construction was completed, and in 1966 the lake reached its full water level.

Originally constructed to generate hydro-electric power, it took several years before Virginia’s largest contained lake would develop into a popular recreational and residential area.(Researched from internet sources)

Thanks to my college roommate, the Reverend H. D. Sherrill, Jr., who we with great affection call Butch, this would be our third visit to Smith Mountain Lake. Reverend Sherrill has many skills, but he is very adept in building relationships and connecting with people. Our visits to Smith Mountain Lake have come courtesy of a family in the church where he serves.

This very gracious family has said to Butch—“we want you to use our lakefront home at Smith Mountain for a week.” And of course, Butch with heartfelt kindness always accepts, but he without fail asks the family this question—“can I invite my college pals?” Thankfully for his college pals, the family has never said no, and in truth, we pals are the greatest of moochers.

Since we graduated from Greensboro College in May of 1975, Butch, Dan, Steve, Doug, Steve, and myself, Bill, have kept in touch with each other. During these 46 years, we have made a point of gathering sometimes twice a year, but at least once a year. Over time, those gatherings have included our spouses and our children.

Those friendships that started when we were apprehensive freshmen in the fall of 1971 have endured for lots of reasons. Yet, I suspect at the core of this legacy is our hearts.

For this gathering during the week of October 5-8, Butch and Marian, Dan and Judy, Steve and Kathleen, Bill and Betsy, Doug, and Steve would be present. The logistics for the week were fine tuned via our bi-weekly Zoom calls. And, I don’t know about my pals, but Betsy and I couldn’t wait to arrive.

Our residence for the week is perfect. Nothing was spared in its design and furnishings. Everyone has space, and the ever changing views of the lake make the gathering even more special.

Even though the weather forecast looked a bit dreary, we never spent a full day inside. We walked, some of us ventured into the still warm from summer lake water, the the back lawn was perfect for playing corn hole, and thanks to Dan and Judy we had a two day access to a pontoon boat for exploring the lake.

We are never at a loss for conversation, laughter, or food. Our evening meals celebrate the hands that prepared the dinner and compliments always abound.

As we were wrapping up our final dinner for the week, Dan tossed out an interesting question for each of us. He wanted us to ponder how we were holding up psychologically. For sure, the pandemic was part of this probe, but the table was open to unpack whatever was stirring in our souls.

We started at the dinner table, took a pause to clear dishes, and moved out to the upper deck where comfortable seating and a propane fueled fire pit awaited us.
In those reflections, I heard the creaking of our rapidly aging bodies. No one has been immune from the start of this process with backs, shoulders, knees, bladders, prostrates all on the checklist.

But, I also heard in our voices the creaking in our wounded hearts. Those wounds wear on our mental state.

In the creaking of weary hearts, I learned about the commitment to remain diligent and loyal in completing outstanding careers before full retirement.

We learned how one spouse has attempted to adapt to the loss of sight in an eye.

Even with the latest surgical and technical applications, another spouse has struggled with the loss of hearing.

Rightly, there was an edge of bitterness in their stories, but I also heard the ingenuity of their adjustments, but more importantly I felt the love and support of their spouses.

The most emotional came from our friends who are still grieving the senseless loss of their youngest son. This loss came via a stranger who pulled the trigger for no good reason.

They keep hoping this wound will scab over. That the passing of time will bring about an internal healing in the deepest parts of their hearts and souls. But, the wound is so vile, so festering that scabbing remains elusive.

But, the creaking of our hearts didn’t end with that mean tragedy.

We also heard the painful reality of a body that is physically in distress with multiple challenges while its heart battles loneliness.
As we listened to our friend, I know our hearts hurt. Our hearts cried out with love wanting to assist in guiding a path for improvement.

With our faces framed in the light of the flames from the fire pit, we temporarily put to rest the creaking in our wounded hearts as sleep called.

On Friday morning, I went for a run.

Like earlier in the week I expected to see some deer again, but I guess this morning they were still in slumber.

As I wove my way toward the golf course and the clubhouse for the golfers, there was a flurry of activity. Some golfers were at the practice tees, and greenskeepers scurried about the fairways completing their final manicures.

Somewhere along the way, I thought about Thursday’s after dinner conversation. For some reason, I pondered our aging and our hearts, and out of the blue the word creaking popped into my mind.

As we age, our bodies start to creak more, but our hearts are in that creaking too. That’s quite a skirmish— especially when hearts are wounded.

But as I think about my own creaking, wounded heart, and the creaking wounded hearts of my friends, there is a quiet constant in our years of loyalty—love.

And maybe 1 Corinthians 13 verse 7 makes that point best for us: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
photo by Bill Pike

Veterans Day 2021: “It’s my honor, sir.”

Tuesday, September 21, Maine was miles away in our rearview mirror. Sadly, we said goodbye to our friends, the Halsteads, in Cape Newagen on Monday.

For our drive back to Virginia, we opted not to hug the traditional traffic scrum down the East Coast. This was a two day trek. We cut across Connecticut on I-84, kept going into New York state, and eventually stopped for the night just across the Pennsylvania line.

On Tuesday morning, in Scranton we connected with I-81, and made the turn south.

Now, I-81 isn’t stress free. We had a couple of heart palpitation moments with clueless lane drifters. But, the landscape is more appealing.

I can only imagine what this land was like when road construction started. Now, I reckon the little towns along the way that are still sprawl free of hamburger rows and big box stores value their short-lived solitude.

With Maryland and West Virginia behind us, we worked our way back into Virginia.

We discussed getting off I-81 to take an even slower pace to Richmond, and then an idea hit us. Might now be a good time to explore the The Green Valley Book Fair in Mt. Crawford? Despite gray skies and some raindrops, the Commander Supreme, quickly charted our course for making this stop.

If you love books, this is a dangerous place to pause. It is quite possible bibliophiles could stress out the suspension system on their vehicle loading it down with books, or at the very least jeopardize their financial stability.

According to their website, The Green Valley Book Fair is a discount book outlet where customers can save 90% off retail price. Here are some additional numbers to consider: 25,000 feet of book space, 60 categories, 30,000 titles, inventory of 500,000 books, and thankfully, since 1970, their heart for books hasn’t changed.

Of course, the Commander Supreme found multiple bargains for our grandchildren, and while I was tempted to fill up a cart, I settled on one book—Veterans Voices: Remarkable Stories of Heroism, Sacrifice, and Honor.

A National Geographic published book, it is authored by Robert H. Miller and Andrew Wakeford. A book about war isn’t supposed to be beautiful, but this one is.

For me, one appeal is looking deep into the faces of each Veteran, but there is a deeper pull—the heart of their humbling stories. Their stories are powerful for many reasons, but sacrifice is a common theme.

From October 15-30, our church hosted a team of fifteen Veterans from the nonprofit, Team Rubicon. These men and women were in Richmond to assist with the logistical supply coordination for Afghan refugee families. This team came from all over America to give back their essential skills to people in need—more sacrifice.

On Saturday, November 6, a team of eight from our church traveled to Woodland Cemetery. Woodland is a historic African-American cemetery that for many years had suffered from improper care. Since 2018, leaders in Richmond and Henrico County have been on a mission to clear the years of neglect.

Our team quickly learned the historical importance of this cemetery, and we worked diligently to improve the section we were assigned. While there, we were informed that a group of volunteers would be placing American flags at grave sites where the deceased were recognized as military Veterans.

I watched as the team scattered themselves throughout Woodlands’ acreage. At one point, I took a break to interact with one of the flag planters. This kind lady gave me a brief background of how the organization started. When I thanked her for her time and the placement of the flags, she responded—“My honor, sir.”

In the layout design of Veterans Voices, the authors feature a quote from each Veteran as they begin to tell the Veteran’s story.

Don Thieme, was an Army platoon leader in the Vietnam War. “He was responsible for the lives of 30 to 40 men. His goal was to get all of his men back home alive.” (Miller, Wakeford)

Of course, the war didn’t cooperate. Lieutenant Thieme saw it all in losing members of his platoon.

But, Lieutenant Thieme’s quote struck me: “In the worst conditions, there’s a lot of humanity.”

Lieutenant Thieme’s words made me think about America’s current internal divided conditions. I pray we can regain the dignity of our elusive humanity.

Today, Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, 2021, I encourage you to seek out our Veterans. And if you encounter a Veteran, simply say—“thank you for serving our country.”

If you hear back—“Thank you, it was my honor,” then you, me, we, us can never ever forget the sacrifice in that response.

For that sacrifice is America’s existence.

American flag at a Veteran’s grave Woodland Cemetery Henrico County, Virginia 11/6/2021 photo by Bill Pike

The Story Man: The Passing of the Reverend Doug Hill

On the evening of Sunday, September 26, I received notification from our senior pastor that the Reverend Doug Hill had passed away. 

This was an unexpected shock to me. My heart hurt. Doug was the real deal.

I don’t remember exactly how I came to know Doug and his wife, Janet. But, when Doug retired from the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, he and Janet settled in Richmond, and they began attending Trinity United Methodist on Forest Avenue in Henrico County.

For 42 years, Doug was in church buildings around Virginia. He served with distinction as a pastor and later as a district superintendent. Doug knew his way around the districts in the conference. He had a wide range of geographical assignments in his work. I don’t sense he ever backed away from a challenging designation.

At Trinity, Doug and Janet fit right in, and they quickly acclimated themselves and became involved. Their leadership styles were different, but their hearts were always perfectly positioned to make an impact.

One winter evening after I had taken the job as property manager at Trinity, I was in a meeting at the church. Doug was in this meeting too, and a man came into the church who was asking for assistance for the night. Doug came down with me to talk with the man. We were not able to solve his challenge for the night, but I appreciated Doug being a part of that encounter.

Once as Doug and Janet were packed up for a trip, Doug fell. It was not a good fall, he broke one of his hips. He recovered, but I remember him sharing the doctor’s post surgery advice: “Don’t you fall again!” To my knowledge he never did. But, Doug was very skilled at helping people who for assorted reasons had fallen on the path of living.

A handful of times, I was asked to pinch hit in the pulpit for one of our pastors. Whenever I had finished writing the sermon, if Doug was available, I asked him to come to the church to listen to a practice session in the Sanctuary.

 He never turned me down. And to Doug’s credit, he was gentle in his suggestions for improvement. He never chastised with theological jargon or theories. He kept me focused on the task at hand and helped me find a bit more of confidence. Somewhere, in my mess of desk I have a beautiful handwritten note from Doug. I will cherish that note forever.

If you knew Doug, you knew he was a storyteller. All of those interactions with people in all kinds of settings during his career had given him a full library of experiences. Over the years, Doug shared a few with me, and I always learned something from these stories. 

No matter how difficult the setting in a church or a community, I learned more about him and how he worked with people. In those reflections, I was always amazed at his coolness, his calmness, and his capacity to lead and communicate with precision to the person who needed help or who had stepped over church boundaries.

Back in August of this summer, we asked Doug if he would participate in the Twelve Days of September. This was designed as a brief interview conversation with staff members and our congregation. We tried to captured every age demographic, and we wanted to know how the pandemic had impacted them and our church.

Because of the pandemic, we conducted the interviews on the grounds of the church. On the afternoon of Doug’s interview, we sat under the shade of dogwoods, crepe myrtles, and the east side of the Sanctuary. Richmond’s August heat and humidity were at their best that afternoon. We did the interview in one take, and Doug true to form despite the summer heat was as cool as a cucumber.

We talked for several minutes after the interview, and during that time frame, my mind was graced with another story. This one had to do with Doug learning how to run a church. Doug felt his seminary experience had prepared him well for delivering sermons, and conducting weddings, baptisms, and funerals. But, he wanted to learn more about the daily working of a church.

Doug made arrangements to meet with Dr. James Turner who at the time was the senior pastor at Trinity. A schedule was set up and for several weeks, Doug and Dr. Turner met. Doug learned about how to run meetings related to Finance, the Trustees, Staff Parish, and Church Council.

When their last tutoring session was completed, Dr. Turner looked at Doug, and he gave Doug a final tip. 

He said— “remember, when you are working with church people, you must be able to chuckle.”

 Of course, Doug was curious about this recommendation to chuckle.  So, he asked Dr. Turner—“why is it important to chuckle?” 

Dr. Turner looked Doug in the eye and said—“ because church people are crazy.”

In his 42 years of work with church people, I’m pretty sure Doug found numerous opportunities to chuckle about his work.

But, I also know during his years of service that Doug touched hearts.  

He touched those hearts in every moment that the chaos of life can toss at a person. And in that chaos people found the real deal, a man who knew his calling, and a man who knew how to respond to people in need.

Thank you Doug Hill for touching my life.

 My heart will never forget you and your stories.

The Reverend Doug Hill August 2021 at Trinity United Methodist Church in Henrico County, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Kim Johnson

Show respect for the challenge bus drivers face

Honored to have this piece in the Virginian-Pilot

Show respect for the challenge bus drivers face


On Oct. 5, my wife and I were driving from Richmond toward Smith Mountain Lake. We were meeting longtime college friends for a few days.

Traveling on Virginia Route 24, we eventually intersected with U.S. 29. At that intersection, I looked to my left and saw a parked Campbell County school bus. The bus had a large banner on the side stating the school system needed school bus drivers.

As we made our turn on to U.S. 29, I thought to myself probably no school system in Virginia has been immune from finding and hiring school bus drivers. Apparently, Virginia isn’t alone in filling these driver seats. I’ve read the headlines about this need across America too.

I had the privilege of working in the public schools of Virginia for 31 years as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal. Also, I served a 14-month appointment on our local school board. So, I know how important school bus drivers are to school systems.

There are many challenging jobs in a school system. However, one of the toughest is driving a school bus. In fact, in this driver shortage, I often ask, “Why would any perfectly sane human being want to drive a school bus?”

To become a school bus driver is no easy task. School systems work carefully to find candidates who can meet multiple qualifying standards.

Once those hurdles are passed, drivers undergo extensive training learning all about that big yellow box on wheels. This includes driving the bus in a variety of settings and conditions.

When drivers complete their training, they are assigned a route. Before the start of school, the drivers drive this route pin-pointing their designated stops, while also taking in the terrain.

While driving a route, a driver is focused on three keys: the road in front of them, the passengers sitting behind them and listening to radio messages from pupil transportation dispatchers who are choreographing routes across the system.

Unfortunately, the road in front of the driver is filled with other motorists who run stop signs, ignore yield signs, barrel through red lights, speed beyond the posted limit and who can be inconsiderately impatient with the pace of a school bus.

Additionally, despite interior cameras and an oversized rearview mirror, sometimes disruptive student passengers are a distraction for a driver. Student code of conducts apply to riding a school bus too.

School bus drivers must also be amateur psychologists. Drivers use their interpersonal skills to develop relationships with students, parents and the staffs at each school they serve.

Often overlooked in the daily transportation of students is that school systems also use their bus drivers to carry students to all types of extracurricular activities after school. This is another level of pressure for drivers as some activities require traveling longer distances during the evening.

Financially, pupil transportation is a big chunk of a school system’s budget. The cost of the bus, maintenance, fuel, along with pay and benefits for drivers are expensive expenditures.

During this shortage of drivers, school systems are in competition to find qualified candidates. Human resource leaders have worked to create signing bonuses, raise pay and improve benefits to attract drivers. While this might be easier for larger school systems to implement, systems with smaller budgets will struggle to match those incentives.

Is there a solution?

To be truthful, I believe school systems are working hard to find and hire competent drivers. But I believe school system leaders and our communities need to revisit a neglected word in our world today — respect.

Veteran school bus drivers will acknowledge that adequate pay and benefits are important. But those same drivers will state of equal importance is respect for what they do every day. This respect must come from students, parents, school personnel and the motorist on their routes.

That respect is critical for the bus driver’s sanity.

Bill Pike resides in Henrico County. For 31 years, he was a public school educator in Martinsville and Henrico County including a 14-month appointment on the Henrico County School Board.

Sunday morning quarterbacking: Fire the coach, the preacher, and God

On the morning of Sunday, October 24, I had volunteered to teach our Sunday school class. Because of that stubbornly mean virus, we were scheduled to meet on the grounds of the church.

Prior to the start of class, there was a lot of chatter. Some of that chatter centered on college football. 

In this case, the focus was on another tough loss for Virginia Tech. Apparently, this loss has landed the team’s coach in the hot seat. Fans at the end of the game were chanting—“fire Fuentes.” 

Yes, coaching college football today is tough work, just ask Ed Orgeron, head football coach at Louisiana State University. 

Back on October 17, the university’s athletic director announced that Coach Orgeron would not be returning for the 2022 season. He will finish out this season, and in December the coach will receive a nice Christmas present—$5.68 million.

Yes, Coach Orgeron who over the last few years has made some questionable decisions all in the name of winning football games is having his contract bought out for a mere $16.949 million.

Clearly, I made the wrong career choice. I should have aspired to become a college football coach. 

Win some games, maybe earn post season bowl game appearances, maybe win a national title, make some questionable decisions in the name of winning, and then be let go, not fired, and walk away with millions. That’s not a bad gig, especially if a coach has no conscience.

But, back to Sunday school class. 

Without question, COVID-19 has punched churches in the nose. Normal predictable routines for the weekly operations of a church have been completely disrupted. I sense there is a weariness hanging over churches. Congregations are in some instances becoming impatient with how the virus is still impacting offerings from a church. 

Preachers in particular are at the center of this decision making pressure. Being a preacher is tough enough without a pandemic pestering you every minute of the day. And in truth in this environment, there are no easy answers.

I believe in the early stages of the virus, churches scrambled mostly via technology to punch back at this nemesis. 

And when churches had the right resources in place, they did an admirable job. 

Yes, technology allows for a connecting to a congregation. However,  it isn’t quite the same as physically being in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, or Sunday school classroom.

Natural born worrier that I am, I sense churches are now facing a troubling undertow of disconnection. What churches have offered during the pandemic is losing its punch, its effectiveness.

In 1992, political strategist, James Carville, is credited for this campaign statement—“It’s the economy, stupid.” As preachers continue to find ways to counter COVID-19, they would be wise to reword Carville’s statement—“It’s the congregation, stupid.”

Preachers, their staffs, and their congregational leaders must realize it is urgent, I mean urgent to simply reach out and reconnect with the congregation. 

This can’t be neglected. To neglect this opportunity will only allow the virus to continue to punch churches into obscurity.

Yes, reconnecting might be difficult work. But, the survival of the church depends upon this effort. Preachers who can’t figure this out might as well go ahead and resign from their position. There will be no post-pandemic survival without the reconstructing of relationships—period.

Somewhere in the wild blue yonder God is up there. 

I’ll be honest with you somedays I wonder if God is still on the job. Somedays, I want to fire him as I question his apparent inability to respond to the weariness down here. 

I’m sure there are days when God wants to fire me too. I can only imagine how close I have come. 

I can hear him now, “Get a strike force of angels ready. Pike is driving me nuts today. He is ineffective, whining, fearful, impatient, not listening, has no vision, selfish, wobbling, stubborn, critical, and is losing his faith.”

And then maybe one little angel will brazenly pushback at God, “You know Yahweh, while all that might be true, I will say this about old Bill—his heart still has hope.”

Later on that same Sunday afternoon, my old heart saw a bit of hope.  

Our kids church leader and her team offered a Halloweenie Roast and Fall Festival. The young families in our church were the targeted audience. The team knew a bonus would be to pick up families from our community too.  A gaga pit, parking lot chalk art, an art project, hotdogs, and local entertainer, Jonathan The Juggler, were part of the event.

Overall, I think the outing was a success. Not a huge crowd, but a diverse crowd, and it appeared everyone enjoyed the activities.

I never cease to be amazed at the skills of Jonathan Austin. He is more than a juggler. Multiple magic tricks, a risk taker juggling batons of fire, all incorporated with the riding of a unicycle too. 

He is in constant motion, in constant verbal interaction with the audience, and constantly attuned to himself. Jonathan’s timing is unequaled. 

The diversity of his multiple skills is impressive. Yet, those skills mean nothing without timing. And there is another critical piece in his hour long performance—Mr. Austin quickly learns his audience.

What might preachers, their staffs, and church leaders learn from a Jonathan The Juggler performance?

Here is a sampling of Mr. Austin’s critical skills: 

  • He takes risks.
  • No physical or mental energy is wasted, every movement, every thought has a purpose. 
  • He immediately connects with the audience, without any hesitation he learns names when the show needs participants.
  • He knows his skills, but Mr. Austin isn’t afraid to learn new skills to keep his performances fresh.
  • He works at timing, and he never fails to make that point with the audience and anyone selected to participate.

Timing is critical in life too.

Preachers, their staffs,  and church leaders have no time to continue to misjudge the urgent need to reconnect with their congregations. To do so is like misjudging the timing in juggling three flaming batons.

Many factors impact the development of a successful college football team. Recruitment of players is one of those critical pieces. If all of the fluff was tossed aside in the recruitment of a player, the most decisive element that a coach offers is building a relationship with that recruit.

The same holds true for preachers. 

Preachers must be able to build relationships with their congregation, not just a favored few—all.

My non-theological reading of the Bible recalls that Jesus worked to build relationships with all. Yes, that is tough duty, but necessary duty.

In truth the pandemic provided a perfect opportunity for preachers to do this. Investing time to build relationships across a congregation is just as important as using technology to reach those same members. 

Preachers, their staffs, and church leaders who ignore this disconnect will continue to see challenging times ahead. 

Congregations recognize this disconnect. 

For months, they have been in its quiet turmoil. And in truth, that turmoil is impacted by a divisive disconnect in America too.

Deep in the hearts of some members, they are thinking—if the leadership in this church can’t reach out and help me in meeting my needs, now might be my time to bail out. Maybe, I need a new church.

During the pandemic for lots of different reasons, churches have already lost members. A college football coach knows that losing streaks aren’t helpful to his tenure. Preachers and their staffs need to recognize that losing members, no matter their tenure in the church isn’t a good path.

John 14:27 states:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

When I think about church, my heart is troubled, and my heart is afraid. 

Maybe its just me, but I believe that disconnect in churches is very real. 

And the truth is simply this—preachers and their staffs must roll up their sleeves and find the path to reconnect with their congregations.

This is urgent. 

Time isn’t on your side.

And remember, even God knows—“It’s the congregation, stupid.”


A sampling of articles about college football was researched for this post.