In a preaching class, I was once told that a number of historic pulpits have a verse from John 12 carved into them: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” This was meant as a reminder that, when you’re the preacher, it’s not about you. It’s about Jesus.
While I mostly agree with that idea, I also hold it in tension with the idea that ministry is incarnational. As pastors, we live out our faith in the community of our churches. Our presence as pastors is not just spiritual or intellectual. It is physical, as well: the sound of the voice; the handshake at the door; the gentle touch when visiting the sick. And sometimes, even the protrusion of a growing belly into your ministry.
This is where Katherine Willis Pershey’s book, Any Day A Beautiful Change, begins: the reality of being a pregnant pastor, a wife and a mother, alongside, and intertwined with her life in ministry.
“Get up! Where are your shoes? Stop! Get down! What are you wearing? Is it clean? Stop! Get off of that! Don’t eat off the floor! Put it down!”
That’s my regular discourse every morning with my two children, ages 10 and 2. Particularly on this Sunday morning, I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that children are a blessing from God. “You’re a minister, don’t you realize that”, I said to myself. As we enter the church doors I am towing a diaper bag, a bible case, and a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal. I make my transition from mommy to minister. “Good morning, Sis. So-and-So.” “God bless you Bro. So-and-So.”
by Lesley-Ann Hix
Editor's Note: This is the debut article of a new column that will highlight the stories of young women on their way toward ordination. Submissions are welcomed and should be sent to alongtheway(dot)ycw(at)gmail(dot)com.
There must be a pact that everyone signs upon graduating from seminary. It must say something like, “I promise to never let the secrets of these past three years (or so) become public knowledge.” Something like this pact must exist because I just finished my first semester in seminary, and no one really alerted me to the challenge of what lay ahead. My mom has her M. Div. and spent 20 years in vocational ministry, and the things she did while she was in seminary astound me. For one, she was married. How in the world do you do this job and keep the relationship of a marriage healthy? I have just this year really learned about all the things she juggled while in seminary, probably because it is just now that I am curious.
After only four months at McAfee School of Theology, though, what I have experienced in school is all I can talk about these days. Everything about seminary amazes me, so how can you not talk about it constantly? Maybe it is the very first day of Old Testament class when you learn that there are actually two creation accounts at the beginning of Genesis. Or maybe it is learning that the title “Christian” used to also mean martyrdom and you realize that the faith you hold has not ever really demanded deep-down devotion. Or maybe it is the fourth week into class, right when Hebrew gets complicated - maybe that’s what shuts everyone up.
She was crying silently. Lighting candle after candle, and sobbing. But without really knowing it, she had come to the right place.
The big church was lit sparingly. The side chapel glowed in the dusk, the glorious stained glass windows gleaming like jewels. On the altar the silver candlesticks reflected the flames, on the chalice danced flecks of colored light.
I knew I was entering a different chapter in my calling when a colleague said to me, “Well, we’ll miss you in ministry.”
I had finished 5 years of part-time staff work, 7 years of full-time pastoral work, and a year of schooling and interning in human rights/justice work. I was taking what we in The United Methodist Church call an extension ministry position, the kind of description the Book of Discipline assigns you when you’re appointed to a ministry like hospital chaplaincy or judicatory leadership. Or, like me, community organizing for an international advocacy organization.
A post appeared recently in the closed Facebook network for The Young Clergy Women Project that caught my eye. In this post, a fellow YCW asked about the search process with her husband. He’s a pastor. She’s a pastor. They have a baby. And it’s time for them to search. So, she was looking for wisdom -- as so many of us do -- from her clergy sisters. The married clergy sisters with babies, that is.
That sounds bitter. Maybe it is. Whatever. I’ll talk about it with my therapist. That’s not the point. The point is this: I read this post only to think of another friend who has just completed a search process, a friend that bemoaned the fact that it’s harder to discern God’s call when you’re married. I imagine this is further compounded when you have a baby, but I have neither. I am not married. I have no baby. But I am indeed searching.
When asked to consider the details of ministry, and particularly to offer ‘theological reflection’ on those details, anyone actually IN ministry would likely say: ‘Here’s the theology of details: There isn’t any (theology, that is)!’ At least, that’s what many of us would say on a good many days.
But then there are those other days, those other moments, where the smallest thing can shine with the brightest light. THOSE are the days that we want to capture, hold onto, remember… and REPEAT! Those are the days, the moments, that make ministry worthwhile, that make us say ‘THIS is why I do this.’
One of my great joys in ministry is accompaniment. It's not about what I do, but what I get to witness, encourage, support, nurture, and see others do. So when someone does something they find UNremarkable, I make it my business – my vocation! – to remark.
I am a sucker for a good, trashy novel. When I first began discerning a call to the priesthood, I went through the normal stage of grappling with what it might mean to be a woman of the cloth. On the other side of ordination, I pictured a future populated by massive tomes of the writings of Desert Fathers and Mothers, Greek primers, and liturgy manuals. I was sure that I would have to kick my fiction habit in this austere existence, and wouldn't have time to miss it amongst the praying and the studying and the being pious.
Of course, as I begin my fifth year of wearing the collar, I know that my vision of the ordained life was not a complete one. I did spend my three years of seminary puzzling out ancient alphabets and surrounded by mountains of religious texts, some more obscure than others, and I currently own more Bible commentaries than I ever thought I would, but throughout it all novels have served as faithful companions along the way. In fact, by discovering the existence of a certain sort of fiction, I was eased of some of my anxieties about taking on this particular role in God's church.