Here's a post from one of our founding RevGals, Sue, who blogs at Inner Dorothy, celebrating her ordination anniversary, assessing things she has learned and pondering her upcoming sabbatical. For those who might not remember, Sue was the first person to offer our weekly Sunday Prayer. We're grateful for her long and faithful service on that feature and for her past participation on the panel for Ask the Matriarch.
I hope you'll offer your anniversary congratulations in the comments, and let us know what you've learned in your time in ministry.
What I Know
Just over 13 years ago, in May 1998, the Conference in this part of our vast country saw fit to ordain me to a ministry of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care.
That warm day in May was the coming together of many years of study, CPE, verbatims *shudder*, reading assignments, final papers, internships, a valedictory address, a graduation, a degree, and too many interviews to count. But those were only the practical parts of all that led to that moment of ordination.
The other part is much more difficult to articulate. Hours, days, weeks, months and years of personal spiritual discernment took place before, through, and following all of the above. I don't think anyone ever told me that discernment in ministry was a discipline that would never end. It was not a process that began with a spiritual nudge that said, "Hm. Ministry? Seriously God?" and ended with an alb and stole. Discernment is an ongoing dynamic in ministry.
Here's something thing I know: If you don't have days when you wonder if being a librarian might have been a wiser choice than congregational ministry, you're probably doing a good job of avoiding the deepest challenges of ministry. No offense intended. There's nothing really wrong with that.
It just means that scripture implies that you need to dig a bit deeper. It's sort of like a workout - if you're too comfortable, you need to step it up. There is servanthood undone and it needs to be done. I think a guy named Jesus said something like that a long time ago....he really did not call his disciples to a life of comfort and ease. I also know that this very thing is what makes finding a healthy balance of life and life in ministry one of the greatest challenges of all.
Here are a few other things I know....
1. On October 1, 2001 I led worship for the first time at Little Church on the Corner.
2. On October 2, 2011, ten years later, in the same sanctuary, I led worship again.
3. It is hard to believe that ten years have passed!
4. A dear friend mentioned the occasion in celebration time. Thank you!
5. I know that in these ten years I have given LCotC everything that could have possibly been given by any mere mortal. I have done ministry through physical pain, through times of great joy (Affirming!!) and times of discernment and challenge for our church family. I continue to do so with the best leadership skills I can muster, pain or no pain.
6. I know that there have been many times when ministry has trumped my personal physical health, my time with friends and family, and my capacity to recall bizarre concepts such as "fun."
7. I know that I would do it all over again.
8. I know that I love my church and the people in my congregation. They are my spiritual family in the best sense of the word. Our church family is special.
9. I don't really expect them to understand me anymore, though at times I still secretly wish for it, sort of as one might wish that hobbits were real and second-breakfast would not apply itself directly to one's thighs.
10. I know that only a small number of people in my church truly understand what I do between Sundays.
11. I know that those are the people who have over the years invited me to stand on the holy ground of their greatest joys and deepest tragedies. These are the people who called in the night so that at least one person in the hospital room would not be crying from a place within them so deep and full of hurt that until that night they did not know they could even survive it. They needed me to be the person to bring, if nothing else, a symbol of hope to a seemingly hopeless situation.
12. I know that it is simply wrong to hold a baby shower before a child is born. Just. Wrong. No one will ever convince me otherwise.
13. I know that I can put on my "game face" and get through even the most difficult funeral and work through my own grief on my own time.
14. I know that is no small task, and I'm good at it.
15. I know that the longer I am the pastor of LCotC, the more difficult the funerals will become.
16. I know that I am up to that challenge. One of the most important parts of my ministry is preparation for the celebration of someone's life. I can make a mistake of some kind on a Sunday morning and make it right the following week, but I have ONE, and only one, opportunity to do right by someone who has lived a life on this earth. And every single person's life is worth celebrating simply by virtue of being the life of a child of God. I know I can do right by all of these good people, because I am never alone. God is with me. Thanks be to God!
17. I know that I am a good preacher.
18. I know that I have rarely worked LESS THAN or ONLY the 40 hour week described in my terms of call. I'm pretty much always beyond 40 hours. Some weeks, I just stop counting....
19. I know that no one has ever demanded that I do so. Mostly, circumstances have done so.
20. I know that people grow when they try to accomplish things that they thought were impossible.
21. I know that it is never too late to figure out #20.
22. I know that my sabbatical this year will be good for both me and our congregation in many ways.
23. I know that our Manual says I should have already had one sabbatical already, but this will be my first.
24. I know that I will learn something, perhaps many things, on this time away from congregational ministry. At the very least, I will have a study report to bring back. I suspect I will also bring back to our church a fresh perspective, lots of creative ideas, and most definitely enthusiasm.
25. I know that there are still a few church seasons to navigate before sabbatical time, and I'm up for the task.
26. I know that these ten years have been good. Very, very good. So much of what I do is by necessity "invisible" ministry....time spent reading, praying, counseling, helping where help is needed. In the end, I suppose it doesn't matter who knows how all-encompassing such work can be - because God knows.
27. I had no idea that I knew so many things!