This New Call

I miss my kids.

No, I don’t have any children of my own, adopted, biological or otherwise. Instead, I had a church’s children to call my own—a whole bunch of them. From the babies to the high school students, they were mine.

I was in seminary and Lawrenceville First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was looking for a staff person for their children’s programming; I later took on youth programming as well. It worked out well for all of us.

It was in that church and among those kids that I heard and answered a call to ordained ministry. It doesn’t take much to get me to tell the entire wonderful, holy, absurd story-one that includes my general distaste for children. 

I would be lying if I said it was always good. Yet, it was in the middle of three sleepless months that I first knew that this was it. The sleeplessness came from a heated, nasty board meeting. There was that youth volunteer who always drove me nuts. There were the kids who sometimes did. There was seminary to compete with church, or church to compete with seminary, depending on the day. But, the knowing came from God, with the help of a preschooler and two kindergarten kids.

Mostly, though, it was a very good experience and what grew in that church and with those kids was a deep, holy love, unlike anything I had ever known. I did all those typical youth and children’s minister things: camps, lock-ins, VBS, Sunday school, and Wednesday nights. In the middle of all those things, that holy thing that is a call to ministry grew stronger.

This call became evident to me in the simplest moments.

One night, I handed a jacket to a little boy who I could never figure out, especially when it came to what he thought about me. He didn’t take it. Instead, he turned around so I could help him put it on, even though he was long past the age of needing help with that sort of thing.

One day, in worship, a little girl was supposed to read scripture. She couldn’t see her mom who normally gave her the appropriate cues for going to the pulpit to read. Instead, her eyes met mine.

Another day, in worship, the same preschooler who had been sitting on my lap the first time I knew I was called to ministry, now a grown-up first grader, sat beside me in worship. I was the pastor now, even if only briefly. As we waited for communion to be passed to all the worshippers, she started whispering to me, asking me about what would happen in the coming months as I left and another minister took my place.

And on the day I was ordained, the kids were all there, singing in their choir at my ordination. My favorite pictures from that day are from a very, very long hug, shared between one of the kids and myself after the ordination ceremony ended. There are many pictures of that hug, in fact, because it was so long. It ended only when I whispered softly, “You have to go now. There are other people waiting that I need to talk to.”

It’s amazing how the role of pastor, and what ordained ministry really meant became so clear through my time with those kids.

The church and I always knew my call to that congregation was short-lived, dictated by my time in seminary. After that, I would move on to a full-time job, probably with adults, and not exclusively children.

I now live more than eight hundred miles away, living out a new call.

But I miss my kids.

In my tradition, we call our job search process “Search and Call.” Even in the language surrounding looking for a job, it’s understood that this new place has asked you to live out your call to ministry there. No one ever mentions, though, that a call to a new place means another call has ended. No one ever mentions that in living out the new call, I must still mourn the last one.

The grief and heartache over what was, is real and deep. I continue to struggle in this new call. I know I could not expect this new call to be as good in less than one year as my last was in three.  I trust this call will have those blessed, Holy Spirit filled moments, too. Those moments will also be emblazoned in my memory and cherished as new memories alongside old ones.

Mostly, though, it makes me remember that this call isn’t mine at all. It is God’s. I so often remember Jesus’ words, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” And with that, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

This call I live out is surely God’s and so I always try to trust that God is working in this call and in the call of others. I trust that there will be someone at Lawrenceville First to teach and love and care for and welcome those kids that are no longer mine—if they ever were mine at all—all in the name of Christ.

For it is in that same holy trust that I now preach and teach and sing and love and welcome, in this new call, where a church has asked me to do all of those things in the name of Christ. And I do so, hoping that this new call and all the joys with it, will fill the part in me that still says, “I miss my kids.”

 

Comments

I truly appreciate these words. I am also in a new call and it is hard to form new bonds and new pathways of faith with a different congregation.

Thank you for your testimony. Peace to you!

I came out of seminary determined not to be pushed into youth ministry, as so many of my fellow young colleagues had been. Also I was terrified of teenagers. Now, five years out and having worked around but not primarily with youth, I wonder if maybe I was too quick to say no- there is a special sort of grace in getting to know a young person and walking alongside as they grow out of the baby fat and into their adult selves. Thanks for your piece, and I hope your roots grow deep in your new call!

Thanks for this, Abby. I'm going through some of that grief myself at the moment. For the kids and everyone back there. It is hard to start over.

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