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.