Recently I've been away from the normal routines of ministry. The first week I was at a week-long meeting of the "Candidacy Board." This is a new body in the United Church that assesses, interviews and approves people for the various streams of ministry in the church. There are now six of these board in the UCC. I am the president (lofty sounding, sure, but it translates in both English et français) of the Quebec and East Ontario CB, which meets twice a year face-to-face to interview and assess those who come before it. We also meet monthly through "Zoom" (an online communication tool like "Facetime" or "Skype"). This work is very rewarding, although exhausting, and I am glad to do it on behalf of the Church.

The second week I was away at an international and ecumenical Church camping conference at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. The first of its kind, this event pulled together people from all over North America who are invested in Church camping and conferences—there were 600 of us there. As I have been associated with Rideau Hill Camp for well over two decades, I was honoured to have been selected to attend and learn much about the past, present and future of this active form of Christian education.

So, between those two weeks I got to spend two days with Karen, who then went to Peterborough to visit Malerie. As Karen headed off, I got to spend time drinking, uh, beverages with some of the younger men in our churches at the Red Dot; then, the next morning it was breakfast at the Kemptville Legion with some of the more "usual" men. Later that day, I prepared for the Kitchen Party Church on November 17, making Jigg's Dinners (both a full on meat and vegetarian version), complete with pease pudding and Figgy Duff. I had to practice You might think it's goofy, but the man in the moon is a Newfie by Stompin' Tom and Jimmy Payne's Wave over wave, as my voice got scratchier and fainter … sigh.

But it was well worth it, as all the Ugli Sticks, fiddle music, fun and food made for a grand time at Hallville. I will admit I was astounded at the number of people who came out and stayed. Me son, it was some good b'y. I am now in my last week of study leave (ministers are allowed three weeks of study leave per year) trying to get ready for Advent and Christmas, which is one of the busiest times of the year.

I offer this explanation of my November not as an excuse, but as a way for you to see that (while most people see me only on Sundays) there was a lot lurking beneath the tip of the iceberg. There is much that happens in ministry that is below the surface. And I can understand why, as I was packing up from the Kitchen Party service, one of our younger members asked what my "week-day job" was—after all, I have a pick-up truck! I tried to explain to him that ministry was my week-in and week-out job.

These weeks away from the parish are a part of what it means to be a minister—I am expected—and actually covenanted—to take part in the wider work of the United Church. So, I have a place in our Regional Council, the General Council, and the Candidacy Board. I also take part in the community through Rideau Hill Camp, the House of Lazarus, taking services at many local nursing homes, partnering with other community groups. I also spend a great deal of my time in pastoral visitation and just plain visiting, which is a lot like knitting: Sometimes it gets done without ever really knowing you are doing it. Then there is worship and sermon preparation, which involves research, writing and practice. Writing blogs (!), preparing reports for the Church Council or Board of Managers, answering emails and Facebook messages are another often unseen part of what I do. And reading … yes, I have to read for my job: the Bible, commentaries, newspapers, novels, reports, blogs - they are a part of how to sharpen and keep my mind "in the game."

Ministry can be an all-encompassing vocation in that it is less of what one does, and more of who one is. But I feel so blessed to be one of those who shepherds YOU, the ones who do the real ministry out in the world. The less it seems that I'm around, the more it is YOU who are blessing your neighbourhoods, volunteering, witnessing, changing the world around you.

So, for those of you who were wondering what I was doing these past few weeks, I can tell you very simply: Working to be a better minister for God and for you and for the world.