This summer one of my friends celebrated twenty-five years of ordination. She had a big party with a dinner and cruise on the St. Croix River. Today I read in a church newspaper that a young woman has been named as Senior Pastor at a very large church in our neighborhood.
It made me think back to the year 1990, the year I began seminary, and what I thought I was getting into, back then.
After a year or so of deliberation, and the prodding of the Holy Spirit, I began my studies. (My year or so of deliberation included preaching at a couple of Lenten services, and taking a class at the semninary. Maybe I did a couple of other things, but I I can't remember now.)
I remember that I wondered for awhile if God had given me gifts to do this work. After all, I am slightly shy by nature, and as a child I couldn't imagine myself standing in front of people. But in the end, I thought that God had given me gifts, and I even thought I knew what they were.
I thought that one of my gifts would be preaching. I thought this because I write well. I also thought that my missionary past would be a gift, a passion for reaching out. (It was just too bad that I served in a country where success in mission was painfully slow.) When I started seminary, my memories of Japan were only five years old, and I still felt sort of exotic because of those experiences. I loved theology and was pretty sure that this was a good sign as well. I had done different things as a lay leader in the congregation (teach Sunday School, sit on the church council, sing in the choir), and also liked being with both little kids and old people. I knew that I would have to do some hospital and shut-in visitation, but I had seen pastors whose ministry became chaplaincy, and knew that I wouldn't want to create a dependency. "Pastoral Care" would not be one of my strong points. Oh yes, and I'm creative, and I have had spiritual experiences. Those would be helpful too.
Anyway, that's what I thought then.
I will also confess to you that, back then, I did not have a good idea what pastors did all week.
So here I am, about 18 years into this pastor gig.
I still think I have gifts for ministry. I'm not always sure of what they are, and sometimes gifts (and liabilities) have surprised me. I have discovered that I love visiting people, both the shut-ins when I take communion, the people in the hospital, but just sharing a cup of coffee or tea with someone, and hearing a little bit of their story. I am sometimes in awe of a moment in a conversation when a little window opens up.
I have also been told that I "wasn't spiritual enough." That was a surprise. So, I have mixed feelings about claiming that I'm "spiritual" or not.
I really want to connect people with gifts, and people with people.
I really want the church to reach out to un-churched people, and to show they care about the people who live around them. But I know I it's difficult and I don't always know how to do it.
I have discovered that churches need pastors and leaders, people who care and people who have courage, and that courage is hard, and that sometimes I fail at it, and sometimes I succeed.
I have discovered that I have both gifts that I didn't know about and liabilities that I didn't know about.
So, I'm 18 years into this pastor gig. In a few ways, it's what I thought it would be. In a lot of ways, it's very different. It's different than I thought it would be, more varied, more puzzling, more rewarding, but also more challenging. It's also different than it used to be.
It seems to me that people used to think of the church as a sort of still point, offering a sort of stability from week to week. But now I think that the church needs to be seen as moving from 'here' to 'there' -- moving from the old world to the new, and pastors and other leaders need to be like Moses, leading through the wilderness, or Ezra, re-building the temple.
So, I'm 18 years into this pastor gig, and sometimes I do wonder if I really knew what I was getting into. Probably not.