Healed
Christianity as a Way of Life

Ten lessons I’ve learned from being a minister in Omaha

Charge to the Pastor

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Countryside Community Church

5 May 2024

               Jenny, welcome to Omaha.

            Something strange happened to me in the last few years—suddenly I’m no longer one of the new guys, but am now one of the old farts.  I don’t feel like an old fart, but the reality speaks for itself.  Every local faith community we at First Central partner with, and almost every UCC church in the Living Waters Association, has a pastor, rabbi, or imam who has arrived here since I began my ministry in Omaha fourteen years ago.

            So, as the wizened old guy, I thought that for this charge to the pastor, I’d give you ten lessons I’ve learned from being a minister in Omaha, Nebraska.

  • Nebraskans are nice and they don’t coast. And those were actually slogans the city and the state used a few years ago in advertising campaigns.  You’ll discover the folks who hold such ideas with irony and those who don’t.
  • Sports is important. Which, you probably know already.  Sadly, football seems less important than it was fourteen years ago.  And I’ll make no further comment on that.  But volleyball, College World Series, and lately women’s basketball are HUGE.  And then we usually get cool Olympic trials every few years.  We even had Olympic curling not too long ago.
  • Fall is (usually) our best season. The morning sun shines with golden radiance.  We are most likely to have our perfect, top ten weather days (and there are only ten).  And then everyone puts on their flannel and goes apple picking.  You also have to go to Valla’s at least once every autumn.
  • Winter, however, is not our best season. Some aren’t too bad.  But some have repeat polar vortexes and fifty inches of snow.  Lately they’ve just been getting weirder and unpredictable.  But one rule of thumb is that at least once every winter you and your family have to go, at least for a few days, someplace warm, where the sun shines and nature still has some green in it. 
  • Omaha is really like a big small town. It won’t take you long to start running into people you know everywhere you go.  The best part of this reality is the quaint charm to so much that happens here.  One of my favorites is the Fourth of July.  There are all these little neighborhood parades and people throw parties in their backyards.  Front porches are hung with bunting.  It looks like a completely different time.  And it will charm you, and you’ll fall in love with it. 
  • You must have an opinion on the streetcar.
  • Natural disasters. Get ready for them.  We’ve had two 500-hundred-year floods in the time I’ve been pastor.  And I think we are about due again for the next one.  Blizzards, droughts, and, of course, tornados as well.  What will astound you are the responses.  The ways in which this community musters to help people in need.  Omaha is deeply philanthropic and generous.  Filled with excellent organizations who do the hard work well.  The capacities exists.  Omaha has wonderful community spirit.
  • Where we still have lots of work to do is in racial justice and class inequality, as we deal with the lasting effects of redlining and other unjust decisions from the past. The uprisings and reckonings of 2020 made all too visible our shortcomings and how much work remains.  Here too there are vibrant groups doing good, hard work.  And it’s our job to follow and partner so that we can manifest our Christian values on the ground.
  • Omaha is a place where you can make real change. This is a small enough city still that a few well-organized people can have a major impact.  For instance, twelve years ago the LGBTQ community, alongside the progressive congregations, and younger business people organized to pass our Equality Ordinance.  And then successfully defended it from challenges.  And in more recent years it has been expanded with no controversy and unanimous votes of the City Council.  Last year we did face new threats against bodily autonomy, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ rights in the state legislature.  The vast array of civil society that organized against it was a glory to behold.  We lost last year, but this year we prevented most of the evil bills.  So welcome to this fight.  It is one we where you Jenny, leading your congregation, can make a real difference, real lasting change, that imagines more and improves the lives of people.
  • And finally, number ten. As the demographic trends show that the world is undergoing deep, radical change when it comes to religion, church, and spirituality, you’ll discover that the most fun thing about being a pastor in Omaha, Nebraska is that here good preaching and dynamic pastoral leadership work. They are effective. They bear fruit. 

    And your setting, your congregation is just primed to take off.  To imagine more.  To cast a vision, organize your mission, manifest your commitments, engage with effective partners, and help to meet the needs of this community.  It’s fun.

So, again, welcome.  There’s lots of good, difficult, and rewarding work to do.  And you’re going to enjoy it.

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