Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ministry: The Unexpected (Part I)

I imagined, in a vague sort of way, that when I finished my work in seminary, I would be called to a church much like the ones in which I had worshiped as an adult or the one in which I had completed my field education.  A fairly large church in the city or in an inner-ring suburb, a church with a tradition of outstanding preaching and spectacular music, a full complement of programs for education and mission, a congregation from varied backgrounds, and perhaps something of a need for more depth in spiritual knowledge and practice.  A place in which I could put some of the more unusual (for a Presbyterian pastor) facets of my background to use, and in which I could sit back and enjoy Bach and Mozart every week.

I imagined that I would be called to some sort of associate position.  I hoped that it would be in education, spiritual formation, and/or pastoral care, but I knew that in my home city, where churches  are not large according to any national standard and, therefore, have few ordained pastors on staff, any available associate position was most likely to be for a generalist.  I expected that I would be  accountable to a senior pastor, and would probably have little input into vision or liturgy or programming or mission. But I would not have to think about paving the parking lot or any other matter for which I have no intuitive bent whatever.

I imagined that my schedule and my life would no longer be my own.  I hoped that I would be able to maintain a miniscule practice of spiritual direction and perhaps on occasion accept a speaking engagement or retreat leadership position outside the church, but I knew that I would be at the bottom of the totem pole, with little say in my assignments in the congregation and little flexibility for work in other environs of the larger church.  (I got into trouble during my field ed year when my father-in-law died late on a Saturday afternoon and I called in to say that I would not be making the six-hour round trip into town and back out for the Sunday service, knowing that the church's two pastors would be there and that my basic task was to read one passage of Scripture. You can analyze that situation in a number of ways; my point here is that I imagined that in my first call I would be facing a similar set of expectations over which I would have no control.) 

And, oh: I imagined that my unknown future congregation would be largely progressive or at least neutral in theology and politics.  Because, let's be serious here: who else would call me?

So, here's what I envisioned:  Staff associate at everyone's beck and call, doing programs that others dreamed up, getting an occasional chance to preach or develop an educational or spiritual opportunity that would draw upon some of my own particular passions and fields of expertise,  and being assigned areas of subject matter jurisdiction that no one else wanted.  The trade-off would be the music program, with respect to which I would have no say, but which I would enjoy tremendously.

I imagined that I would be happy and content to serve God and others, that I would learn to keep my mouth shut, and that I would remain, as I did through seminary and the call process, largely unnoticed.  I would do my work and someday I would move into teaching and writing and supply preaching, and that would be that.



  1. Learning comes in the most unexpected places! There are reasons your call is so different than that which you imagined and that you are learning and growing differently than anticipated. All preparing you for whatever lies (or is it lay?) ahead...

  2. LOL. When women head out to minister in the church we do occasionally end up as associates in large congregations. Often we end up in small rural or small suburban churches, often those leaning toward the convservative end of the spectrum. We are called to these places because in an unspoken manner the congregation anticipates someone who will nurture them in their fears of death. They also think that calling a woman will mean that we will serve like the obedient daughter and they can maintain the status quo through us because, well, girls know how to be obedient. I speak from experience....on the other hand I have also found that small churches can be awazing places of love and transformation - for me and for the congregation - when we meet in the middle.

    Mostly I think, God has a great sense of humor.

  3. So glad you have a sense of humor about Part I. Much of what you have written mirrors similar parts of my desires, hopes, and realities.

    While I can LOL (there are days that is the only option) there is such a reality in the comments Terri made which cause me much grief at the reality of much status quo, so much fear, and so much resistance.

  4. I love it, too. Life is sooo not what we planned! Good and bad.

  5. One cool imagination you have

  6. Just sitting here smiling, that's all! And sending you all my friendship and prayers.

  7. God's plans force us to step outside the box and use the gifts that God has given us. You have so much to give to your people as you shepherd them.

  8. Actually, I was imagining someone would have called any day to offer that job you describe. Only difference was that mine was going to be in the suburbs. And the phone isn't ringing, and I don't imagine it's going to. So now I guess it's time to get creative and make a life for myself. Which, in a way, is liberating.

    1. Yeah, I kept imagining that, too.