I didn’t even see them, so corroded they were by dirt and time and tossed just off of the worn gravel cement path into the kind of grassy weeds that edge city blocks and line neighborhood sidewalks. I’d like to say I was too captivated by brilliant fall colors, too caught up in a dusky cool breeze to notice them—but the truth is that I was lost in the sort of funk and fatigue that wraps one up in a fog of just getting by, focused on too many what-if's and should-have's and I-wish's to be present in any given moment.
Abruptly my walking companion called out, “You know why we don’t notice these?”
“Huh?” I said without a hint of eloquence, having not even heard her words and unable to see what she held between thumb and forefinger even as I stopped and turned towards her.
“You know why we don’t notice these?” she repeated, and then, as her palm opened to reveal the two old pennies she’d just picked up, the ones I hadn’t even noticed, she answered her own question, “because we think they don’t matter.”
When I was in seminary, a member of my home church (you know those church ladies; they raised you, fed you, shuttled you around on youth trips, sent you graduation money, told you your “special music” was wonderful when really it probably wasn’t—anyway, one of those) jokingly accused me of becoming a minister primarily so I would never have to do math.
She was not wrong.
I hate math. And numbers. And chores and errands and paperwork and details, and anything that requires my right brain to wake up and pay attention. As strongly as I felt the call to pastoral ministry, I’m not gonna lie—if Algebra had been required for an MDiv, I’d probably be a copy editor right now.
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.
Life behind the pulpit has not gone as expected. I know God does the unexpected, but I cannot think God wanted my first call to erode my self-esteem and damage my desire to live into my call to the point that I wonder if I will ever have the nerve to get behind the pulpit again.
That first call appeared to be a great fit, and I was excited to accept it. The job description matched the congregation's needs to my gifts and skills. I was the Associate Pastor of a mid-sized congregation in the Southern United States. Giving up his good job near my seminary, my husband and I relocated so that I could take my first call. We purchased our first home and began to settle down, appreciating the chance to put down some roots. It was a welcome respite considering I’d had eleven different addresses in the twelve years since beginning college. I was ready for a taste of stability.
The widow of Zarephath had no oil or bread but she did as Elijah said, and was able to feed Elijah, herself and her son until the rain returned. (Summarized from 1 Kings 17:8-16)
Last year my life exploded. A mental illness I didn’t know I had shifted into full bloom, landing me in the hospital. One day I solo pastored a church in transition, loving my call and work. The next day I was in the hospital because of severe depression, one pole of my newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. In the year that followed I was on 15 different medications to find the right combination for treatment, had 4 hospitalizations for a total of 10 weeks, spent another 9 weeks in intensive outpatient treatment, and experienced 7 controversial ECT treatments (electro convulsive therapy, not at all like what you’ve seen in movies!). It’s been a harrowing year.
Editor's Note: This article is one in an occasional series called "All About the Benjamins," running this fall on Fidelia's Sisters. As many congregations and organizations are running stewardship campaigns and lining up budgets for 2012, we'll be taking a look at the sometimes-taboo topic of money, and the role it plays in our ministries.
I held the paper with disdain. Presbyterians had an annual report that came out, detailing the salaries of every pastor in the area. My spirit plummeted when I saw the figures. I noticed how the guy that just graduated from seminary was making 20K more than I was, even though I had five years of experience. I realized how, across the board, women were paid less than men.
I might be one of the first among my young clergywomen peers to become a doctor. Why did I do it?
My identity as a clergy gal has changed substantially over the years. I've been the reluctant seminarian, the slightly-less-reluctant-but-still-unsure new minister, the energetic still-single-and-happy-that-way rev, the newly-married-second-time-seminarian youth minister, the youngish-married-associate minister. Each phase of this calling has had its ups and downs, and each change in identity has had its awkward adjustments - but for the most part it has been fairly easy to slip into new roles, new ways of being and doing.
But now there is this.
Sometime during college I came across Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics –- a neat collection of writings that focus on various spiritual disciplines. It was a welcome change in pace from the Max Lucado and Phillip Yancey books I had devoured during this time as I sought to articulate some kind of theology for myself. The different perspectives and voices were rich, and as “classics” they nourished my soul in their passionate language and timelessness. Afterwards, I picked up his Celebration of Discipline, and it is something that I refer to often especially during seasons of change and transition for the way it grounds me in tangible practices as I make my way through what is unfamiliar.
With the arrival of the twins, who are now almost three months old, and our move to the mid-west where Andy has taken on a new call, and I’ve taken on the strange, new vocation as a stay-at-home mom, I’m in “that” kind of a season now. Except that I can’t find my copy of Foster’s book because most of my books are still in boxes – officeless. As I try – through my scattered mom-mind – to glean the lessons from the many readings in the past what vaguely strikes me is how I sort of passed over the last chapter, which is on celebration…and that this particular discipline is one that I need to continuously cultivate in my life. I started to think about this when something wonderful recently happened in my life and Andy’s first words were “let’s go celebrate,” and my first response was “nah, it’s no big deal.” He continued to insist, and my giving in made me wonder why I had to force myself to let go of that usual resistance to rejoice in something I did or accomplished in the moment.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. I rarely find comfort in the King James Version and with this verse it is no different. Instead, these words poke at me like a preacher wagging his finger over the pulpit. I know his words are directed at me. I know that they poke at something I don’t care to admit, but there it is. I am vain. I feel vain. All is vanity.
OK. I admit it’s a bit over-dramatic, but I am indeed struggling with my own vanity. It feels silly and trite. Every ounce of my being believes that I should have gotten over this by now. I’ve been ordained for nearly as long as The Young Clergy Women Project has existed. I got to dream about what this organization would be – but when we met at our first conference we shared our vain frustrations. We lamented the church member that accused us of wearing too much make-up. We bemoaned that we were told we couldn’t wear big earrings while preaching. We insisted upon the supreme style of our shoes. After all, it’s all the congregation can really see under our robes. These conversations birthed this column in Fidelia’s Sisters. We wanted to talk about these details in our own voices, but now it’s nearly five years later. Vanity of vanities! Why am I digging this up again?