My new favorite coffee shop is full of 19-ish-year-olds. The facebook news feed from my undergraduate alma mater is announcing the official welcome activities for incoming freshman. Hordes of elementary school children are storming Staples, Office Depot, Target and *disapproving scowl* Wal-Mart in search of crayons, safety scissors, pens, pencils, and notebooks. The television ads have changed from bright sunshine, swimwear-clad individuals, and beach images to brilliant fall leaves, tweens in backpacks, and announcements of Labor Day sales. The youth at the church are talking about new classes and band camp. It's back-to-school time and, for the first time in two decades, I'm not a part of it.
I have no clear memories of a time when I wasn't in school. That is, perhaps, because the last time I wasn't in school was when I was three. At the time, I was very upset that this whole "school" thing was forcing me to miss my morning Sesame Street fix. In retrospect, it was a very reasonable concern, as I haven't seen a full episode of Sesame Street since then. But I digress.
All summer as I've gone to work each day, it has felt a bit like a summer internship. Even with all the responsibilities I have, even though it's full-time work, even though a lot of what I do is preparing for future programs and events that will take place through the fall and into the new year, it has still felt as though, eventually, this work would be wrapping up and I'd be returning to school. As much as I've tried to adopt the mantra, "I'm a pastor now. This is my vocation. I'm going to be here for a while," it hasn't fully sunk into my identity just yet. I still feel like I should be purchasing new notebooks and pens, picking out my first-day-of-school-outfit, going over and over my class schedule, and doing my annual new-school-year panic. After all, that's what I've been doing every autumn for as long as I can remember.
Instead, this fall I'm adopting new traditions. I'm focusing on New Member Sunday instead of new school supplies. I'm wearing my new white robe instead of my first-day-of-school outfit. I got a library card instead of a new class schedule. I'm panicking about being the substitute Big Kahuna while the lead pastor is on vacation instead of panicking about the new school year. But before the back-to-school sales end, I'll probably buy a new pack of multi-colored pens; I don't want to get whiplash from the transition.