Nine in Ten: Memorable Ministry Moments over the Last Decade

womeninministryI recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of my ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I'm pretty big on milestones, so I've been reflecting a lot on the past decade---what I've learned, how I've grown, the joys and the challenges. I've decided to compose a top 10 list of the most memorable moments of ministry and what they revealed about the God I believe in and this vocation I am called to pursue. Here they are in no particular order:

When I became reverend mother. I went through the final steps of ordination with a 5-week-old infant in tow. I remember showing up to one of the clearance interviews with a briefcase under one arm and a baby in the other. It felt very right to carry those two vocations, one in each hand. I have never known motherhood without ministry, nor ministry without motherhood. Maybe it would be less messy if I only had one to contend with. But for me, these twin callings teach, balance, and mitigate one another.

Read the other moments (and why there are only nine) at the Women in Ministry series, hosted by Katherine Willis Pershey at her blog.  So pleased to be able to participate.

Ten Years In

Screen Shot 2013-05-29 at 2.25.18 PM This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of my ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

2003 was a hell of a year. My father died, I had my first child, I graduated from seminary, we moved to Northern Virginia, I was ordained, I took my first pastoral position, and we moved a second time, into the house we still inhabit. That brings us up to July of that year.

In August I started therapy.

When I began seminary, a non-religious friend told me he didn't see me doing this forever. "It's great what you're doing; I just don't see you doing the same thing long term. You'll move on to something else."

He didn't mean it unkindly. I wondered myself whether ministry would stick. I had worked for several years prior to seminary, but never for more than a few years at any specific job. Now, ten years in... I don't know. Is that long term? I remember when we started the Ask the Matriarch feature on RevGalBlogPals, I thought that those women seemed so experienced. Now I'm at that same vintage! Wow.

The great thing about ministry is that it's always changing. Maybe it's the last great generalist occupation. Depending on the day, I am a grief counselor, teacher, building manager, grant writer, desktop publisher, camp counselor, thought leader, fundraiser, community organizer, social media specialist, meeting facilitator, sandwich-maker, dispute mediator, contract negotiator, artist, and of course, preacher.

I've served two churches as pastor, but really I've served many more than that. Communities change as people come and go, as mission and ministry changes---as the world changes. My seminary professors were very clear that the era of Christendom was over; the idea that "everybody" goes to church, especially out of duty or societal expectation, is a thing of the past. The church of the future would have to be flexible, missional, risk-tolerant, creative. So I was prepared for an ever-changing vocation and an ever-changing church.

Still, I have been astounded by just how quickly things are changing. I harbored a secret hunch that there would always be a place for traditional worship, structure and church practice, provided they were offered with integrity, warmth, authenticity and excellence. I'm doubting that assumption more and more---and I'm someone who's generally comfortable with alternate forms of church! I imagine how hard it must be people who aren't prepared, who are still looking around flummoxed at how the world has moved on, asking "Why can't we just plan a really great VBS and have that do the trick?" I think this is why I'm drawn to NEXT Church---it's a place where churches of all shapes and sizes can acknowledge that doing "the old things better" is not going to work. So now what?

I happen to be walking with several friends who are discerning next steps in ministry. Some of them are actively interviewing with congregations. Others would like to be, but are waiting for a nibble. (In fact I wonder whether I am called to complete some training in spiritual direction/spiritual guidance.) It's interesting to be the sounding board for these friends during my own 10th anniversary milestone. I feel very fortunate to have pieced together a vocation that works for me and that feels fruitful and right. But it's not what I would have predicted for myself. More on that another time, perhaps.


Image source: Columbia Theological Seminary Vantage, Summer 2003. That's me with Shelia Council and David Knauert, of blessed memory. Still can't believe he's gone.

Just for Fun: B-List Kid Milestones

578207_10151518749743164_1005065388_n When we were in Johnstown for Robert's grandmother's 90th birthday, we were talking to her about being the matriarch of such a good and large family. "Look what you did, Mama Ruth!" we laughed as we beheld the 50-some people there.

Margaret must have overheard this because I heard her tell a friend the other day, "We call her Mama because she made our whole family."

This phraseology tickled me, but it also made me a little sad. Margaret is 7 now and is moving into older-child territory. She hasn't said something little-kid-cute like that in a long time, and those occasions will become even less frequent.

There are all kinds of milestones in childhood. There are the obvious ones---walking, talking, riding a bike, going to school---and there are the ones that pass you by without you realizing. James recently fell asleep on Robert's lap, which he hasn't done in ages, and we realized that that may be the last time. Whenever that bridge gets crossed, we will not know it when it happens. We'll only know it in retrospect.

I was telling a friend recently that the big milestones are great and worthy of celebrating. Potty training is a huge one. Caroline is now at an age where we can leave her by herself for short periods of time. Margaret is 8 months away from No More Booster.

But there are so many lesser-celebrated milestones that are just as delightful. Yes, every move towards independence is poignant. But from a parenting perspective, make life so much easier.

Let's build a list of B-list milestones, shall we? Here are the ones that have made me rejoice recently:

  1. When they are tall enough to turn the faucet on and off themselves.
  2. When they can pour their own milk.
  3. When they can swim in the pool with you supervising them poolside, with a book.
  4. When they can wipe themselves successfully.
  5. When they can pack for a trip from a list.

What would you add?