Starting a New Call: A Top 10 List of Dos and Don’ts

The words "Starting a New Call: A Top 10 List of Dos and Don'ts" appear in neon lettering against a background with a white hand holding a dandelion against a blue sky.

  1. Pace yourself. You are going to be tempted to go, go, go. Don’t give in to the temptation. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

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The Heroine’s Journey, Part Four: Experiencing the Boon of Success

This post is the fourth in what will be a series of ten exploring the kinship between the Heroine’s Journey as established by Maureen Murdock, my lived experience of ministry as a female clergy person, and a few familiar fictional characters. Each devotional will end with a blessing for the Heroine at each stage of the journey. In the previous post, we examined the third part of the journey where the Heroine has had to prove themself and their learning against challengers and obstacles. They experience triumph and continue in their journey.

The Heroine’s Journey, Part Four: Experiencing the Boon of Success 

Now that the Heroine has overcome the adversity standing in the way of their fulfillment, they have entered what I call the Uncanny Valley of Success. Here the Heroine feels both a sense of achievement and uneasiness about the role or position that they have attained. It is as if the success that they have been taught to value is not what it appears. Often some kind of feminine elder will kindle their feelings of misgiving. The Heroine can sense that the pursuit of the truth will be costly, so they hold their suspicions at bay.

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A Pastor in the Real World

The words "A Pastor in the Real World: An experiment in making meaning" in black text in front of a background of a typical board room, with a dark brown wooden table, black chairs, and white walls.

For years I have joked about what I would do with my life if this ministry thing didn’t work out. As with all jokes, there has always been a part to it that is tragic and true. In February of this year, I swore off congregational ministry. As a pastor, I experienced a type of trauma and pain that I never could have predicted. I did not want to put myself in a situation where that level of pain could be experienced again. In the throes of my grief, I couldn’t imagine a world in which I would open myself up again to love and inevitably be hurt by a congregation. 

As soon as I typed my resignation letter, I was looking for jobs in the real world — the world that felt so foreign after 10 years of congregational ministry, the world that so many of my peers inhabited on a daily basis, the world where employees were protected by legislation that would not allow what happened to me in the church to happen elsewhere. What could I do? Where would I fit? How could I repackage my qualifications to be relevant to the real world? My 3 1/2 degrees in theology did not appear on the surface to translate well to other fields.  Read more

A Ministry of Ending

Would we close? Or could we keep going? 

It was the question that occupied my mind as I drove to meet with a denominational leader about my congregation. And it was the question that came at me from every side as I began my ministry as a solo pastor of an urban congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, just a month after my graduation from seminary. Though I had led a congregation to a merger as a student pastor, I still wasn’t equipped to answer this question. Nobody had mentioned the financial strain, the community members’ fatigue, and the denominational push-pull the congregation had been through for the years preceding my arrival. 

It had taken months for me to land this face-to-face meeting with the one person in my denominational structure with the authority to decide my congregation’s fate. 

Would we close? Or could we keep going? Read more

The Heroine’s Journey, Part 3- Road of Trials: Meeting Ogres and Dragons

This post is the third in what will be a series of ten exploring the kinship between the Heroine’s Journey as established by Maureen Murdock, my lived experience of ministry as a female clergy person, and a few familiar fictional characters. Each devotional will end with a blessing for the Heroine at each stage of the journey. In the previous post, we examined the second part of the journey where the Heroine enters into a process of formation as determined by the external “other” that the Heroine hopes will overwhelm their pesky femininity.

 

The Heroine’s Journey;

Part Three – Road of Trials: Meeting Ogres and Dragons

Now the Heroine must prove their skills, knowledge, and relationships against the hardships of the world–necessary work in order to develop ego and character. Challengers draw near to keep them from their chosen path. When the Heroine has triumphed over their trials and adversaries, they gain reputation, status, empowerment, and confidence. Alongside their external success, the Heroine believes that they have secured the other to their identity and no longer have to fear being deficient or inferior.

 

Personal Story

There is one photo of me that best encapsulates this phase of my life, when I was both establishing my family and endeavoring to establish my career. It was taken at a synodical continuing education event that I was attending in order to network, to keep my face out there, and make sure that I wasn’t forgotten or discarded. I was two years into a search for my first call and the ordination that would go with it. Though it is not visible in the photo, I was pregnant with my second child, which meant that I felt gross in my own skin and my back ached. 

I knew I was being photographed that day. I remember being annoyed about it even as it was happening, because I recognized what was unfolding. I recognized it because a classmate from seminary, a person of color, had shared with me when this had happened to him. They were taking photos of me because I was young and female, and they needed more diversity for their website. I was being gobbled up by the insatiable content monster that lurks in so many aspects of modern life. Yet I understood that the photographer had no way to know I was not ensconced in a congregation or some other ministry setting. He was doing his job just as I was doing what needed to be done.  Read more

The Heroine’s Journey, Part Two: Identification with the Masculine and Gathering of Allies

This post is the second in what will be a series of ten exploring the kinship between the Heroine’s Journey as established by Maureen Murdock, my lived experience of ministry as a female clergy person, and a few familiar fictional characters. Each devotional will end with a blessing for the Heroine at each stage of the journey. In the  previous post, we examined the first part of the journey where the Heroine learns to distrust or belittle her own femininity because she fears it means she is weak or bad.

The Heroine’s Journey

Part Two – Identification with the Masculine and Gathering of Allies

The Heroine has shifted away from their feminine self and is now intent on constructing an identity informed by the external “other.” This is most often accomplished by aligning themselves with a father figure and/or by stepping into a traditionally masculine role.  Once the Heroine has been established with the mentor or is in the place that will cultivate them, they either gear “up to ‘fight’ an organization/role/group that is limiting [their] life options, or [enter] some masculine/dominant-identity defined sphere” through study, training, making friends, and building alliances.

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The Heroine’s Journey and A Life of Feminine Ministry Devotional

This spring will mark the ten year anniversary of my graduation from seminary. If I had had to guess what course my ministry life would have taken over these ten years, I would have been wrong. So wrong. As of the writing of this article, I have been considered by about two dozen ministries. From those, I have received one offer of call, which I accepted and from where I was ordained. I have the ignominious achievement of having been looking for a call longer than I’ve actually been in one. Heaven knows that I’ve introduced my own complexities to the situation. I own those. I just never imagined that they would be so nearly insurmountable. It has not escaped my notice that they are all rather feminine in nature – children bearing and caring and being the non-breadwinning spouse. Somedays, having persevered through so much rejection, it feels like a real miracle that I am still here, in faith.

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The Emergence of Fandom Church

Beginning in 2012 and through 2013, while waiting for my first call, I worked for the missional outreach face of my seminary’s website. I edited a collection of essays from a class on church revitalization and wrote a few original pieces reflecting on my experiences as a Millennial who was also a practicing Christian. In one of the posts I wrote, which I called “The Original Fandom,” I drew a line connecting the people who call themselves Potterheads, Trekkies, or Bronies/Pegasisters with the people who call themselves Christians. This article of mine was the very first place that I began to think that maybe fandom had something to teach those who follow Christ about what it means to be shaped by a story, or a Word, in the Internet Age. Though the article itself hasn’t survived my seminary’s transition to a new website or my transition to a new computer, the act of writing that article set me on a course where I would be continually fascinated by the activity, practices, and commentary of fan culture. This, in turn, has inspired me as I question and experiment in ministry.

The impact of story fandom (think books/movies/RPGs/TV shows) on larger culture has been maturing on a parallel path to my own growth and maturity. In some ways it feels as if story fandom has been growing up with me.  I was four when The Little Mermaid released, five when Beauty and the Beast hit theaters, and so on. The Disney Renaissance was my childhood. Toy Story came out when I was nine. The first Harry Potter book came out in 1998 when I was 12, and Harry, the eponymous main character, had just turned 11. I spent my teenage years soaking in massive movies about Jedi, hobbits and elves, and pirates. I was 22 when Iron Man was released. Maybe it was only a matter of time before I and the members of my generational cohort (with our neighboring cohorts!) began to approach fandom as something more than child’s play. Maybe it was only a matter of time before we began to examine the casual and lively networking of fan cultures that was blossoming alongside our churches, which were struggling to adapt to new rhythms and realities of a culture in flux.

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Non-Canonical Bible Studies: A Chance to Learn Together

 

It all started by questions provoked from the wisdom of Rachel Held Evans.  For our 2021 Lenten book study I chose “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2018).  I had been noticing a burgeoning interest amongst several of the congregants for more intense study of scripture, and I was sure Held Evans’ intelligence, insight, and wit would only add to that interest.  

At some point in the study, we got sidetracked onto the topic of ancient theological writings that were not included in the final canon of the Bible.  Most were aware of the Old Testament Apocrypha, but several were unaware that there were gospels of Jesus that were rejected from the canon.  And this group of adult learners, appalled by the knowledge that there was material for study and conversation that they didn’t know about, suggested we add some of those books to our Bible study.

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“Targeting Gun Violence with Gun Buybacks”

I’m a bit of an outlier among my young female clergy colleagues. I’m a gun owner and a hunter— I use my guns exclusively for hunting wild game. As a kid, hunting with my dad was a way for me to get into nature. It allowed me to observe how I fit “into the family of things,” as Mary Oliver once wrote in her poem “Wild Geese.” To this day, hunting helps me unwind from the stressors of ministry. I can clear my thoughts and catch my perspective. It’s sometimes harder to pray in my church office than it is to pray in a deer stand— even if I’m waiting on an 8-point buck to cross my path. Owning guns helps me fit into my ministry context. I currently pastor two small churches nestled between timber woods and cow pastures in rural South Carolina. Most of my parishioners are farmers and they use guns for hunting and protecting livestock. I’ve really come to enjoy learning about the guns they shoot. Some parishioners even have legacy guns: priceless relics they’ve inherited from ancestors long dead. It is humbling to be trusted with these family histories. But while there are many proud gun-carrying members, there are also many for whom guns are a painful reminder of the epidemic of violence in our society.

Many churches in my area still feel unsafe in the wake of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting five years ago. But most of our gun violence in South Carolina does not come from domestic terrorism: it comes from suicide. Over 90% of suicides in my state involve a gun, and we are 50th in the nation when it comes to availability of mental health first aid. South Carolina is also the only state in the southeast of the U.S. with an increasing suicide rate. During my high school years, I experienced profound depression, brought on by a family crisis. At one point, during the height of my depression, I imagined a handgun to my head and felt a sense of relief rather than dread. This image propelled me to tell a friend, who encouraged me to see a counselor. Thankfully, my family had the financial resources to pay for a counselor. Therapy likely saved my life, but many people don’t have the financial resources for counseling services. These memories, statistics, and ministry experiences propelled me to start a new model for ministry in my community: a gun buyback program.

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