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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Wednesday Festival: Ministry, The Unexpected - Part I

Today's post is by Robin at Metanoia.  
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. Oh, yeah. God has a wickedly perverse sense of humor (and I mean that in a good way!)

  2. I thought something similar to this, too (even after not having grown up in a church like this!)--and ended up in a small, rural congregation! can't wait for Part II!

  3. Oh yeah indeed! Living this one,or something very similar, I think...but I guess I should wait until I read part2 before jumping to conclusions!

  4. Aren't we all so naive! At the ordination service last weekend, the wife of one of the new priests said to me that she was glad it was all over and done with at last. She wondered why I was bent over double with laughter. . .

  5. I don't remember having such expectations. All I knew was that God needed me to be a priest and I was going to be one. And every time that I had expectations, they were always thwarted. So I had to learn how to be the priest where I am planted and use what I had at that given place to make the Gospel known.

  6. I am still waiting for that next place of Call, after taking my first Call and discovering that they really did NOT want a female clergy with brains. Apparently I would be happy standing and shaking hands and pointing visitors to the nursery every Sunday. And that I would not want to preach. Yeah. I resigned after toughing it out for four years.

    All this to say, I'm letting my next Call sit in The Holy's Hands. And where and when it materializes, it will be God's time.

  7. Something else I didn't expect!

  8. I was sent not where I would be competent but where I would HAVE to learn what I hadn't yet learned. With enormous precision. It was easier, a little, after I began to see that THAT was what was happening.


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