Being Named

Called and Sent

Today, the day of the parish retreat, the new church signs made their appearance. Beautiful block lettering with the name of the parish bold against a white background. Vibrant reds and blues in the Episcopal shield–and, the name of the rector in gorgeous script. I am the associate rector in this place and my name is not on the sign. I try not to read too much into this, but fight the sheer hubris that makes me ache inside, that makes me question the commitment of this place to my place here. I assure myself that it is merely an oversight, but cannot let go of my own desire to be acknowledged and embraced.

Then, at the retreat, the guest speaker prayed for the rector by name in her leadership of this place. I sat at my table trying to let it go. It doesn’t matter, she arranged his flight, we’ve barely met, I’ve exchanged two words with the man, he probably doesn’t know my name…but instead I seethe. Today I feel as popular and as necessary as the colloquial chopped liver (having never actually met anyone who has tasted chopped liver I am unsure as to the origin of this phrase and perhaps I am mistaken in assuming it is something that no one would ever want to consume).

So, as my wife and I consider the possibility of selling our home at a loss, and moving to be closer to “our” church community (altho’ I know full well that as priest it can never truly be my community) I wonder moving for a church is wise. Do they really want me? Am I really someone they need in order to thrive as a community? My wife’s salary over five times that of mine–should she even consider changing jobs just so that we can be closer to church and I can come home between meetings? How secure is any call? How can I participate in church growth when my neighbors are too far away to even invite to my new church? Is it absolutely absurd to have changed calls in anticipation of having children when babies are still a future maybe? I am plagued with doubts.

Meanwhile, at the retreat, I am supposed to be sitting in silent meditation but cannot without expressing my fears and anxieties. My fear of being redundant, my fear of not having anything concrete to offer the world or this community. Perhaps I am mistaken, perhaps my own foolishness will be transformed into a peculiar wisdom and I should spend more time listening to God (the brief answer being that one can never spend too much time listening to God).

It is a difficult transition to go from being a pediatric chaplain, an absolutely essential member of the team who offers services that no one else can offer, to being the Associate Rector with an unclear role and increasingly unclear (at least to myself) gift set. The past two speakers presenting to the congregation have made me feel redundant and my goals frivolous. No, we don’t need more programming and small group ministry to grow, we need less, we need more silence, we need music and silence. Meanwhile, my gregarious heart and tone deaf ears hear, “we don’t need you”.

I am plagued by the knowledge that my call to this place included an assumption of financial risk on the part of the parish. In order to grow they felt they needed additional clergy, so they leapt. However, I know that unless we grow they cannot afford to keep me. My heart has assumed the burden for the financial solvency of this lovely place, and this amazing community, in a way that reason reminds me is not my role. And, so I wonder, do they really need me?

I am a fabulous program developer, I enjoy being in community and I am passionate about outreach and the faith formation of children. I love these people in this place. But today, when my role is unclear, I torment myself with the uncertainty. I wonder, is this where God has led me?

6 replies
  1. Elizabeth T.
    Elizabeth T. says:

    Oh, my. This sounds so much like some of my own life it’s scary. If you were me, I would not move. When my first parish did things like this, it meant exactly what I read into it- they were not willing to “keep” me or “invest” in me. The job blew up shortly thereafter. Living across the street from the church (in church-leased housing) only made me much, much more vulnerable.
    If I were in your situation, I’d be sure I love my car, keep my iPod well stocked, and consider investing in a gym in the town. I live 45 minutes from my church, and I often go to coffee shops to wile away the time between events.
    Granted, you are making the transition I will probably one day make. (I’m a chaplain, too.) I could be speaking out of fear from my past instead of the hope you probably feel in your future.

  2. Marie
    Marie says:

    As a young associate in a role new to the church, this piece is hitting close to home. I frequently hear folks in the congregation and on staff talk about “the ministers” as a group that doesn’t include me. The congregation’s uncertainty can exacerbate my own uncertainties, in the challenges of getting to know a new community and the rough transition to a new role.
    It is hard to tell if that whisper of uncertainty in the soul is a sign that you must put your money down, invest in the community and the church, take a risk and commit to this call, or if it is the Spirit calling you in another direction. God’s blessings in discernment.

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    I am curious as to the gender of the author of this article? It would give us a little more context into this situation, as gender politics and issues of sexuality continue to be such important factors in the life of the church.
    It is a terrible feeling to be ignored and overlooked.

  4. Elsa
    Elsa says:

    This is all too true for many associates, I suspect. Thanks for being brave enough to not be too innocent and sharing your story. I also agree with Alex — though I’m celebrating the possibility of the appearance of a queer YCW.


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