Collars, Leashes, and Lead Ropes

Post Author: Rev. Alyssa C Augustson

One of the very first things my spouse said to me on the day that we met was, “Your sense of call is going to make your life tough.” It has. It continues to do so.

In February of 2018 I took my collar off. I resigned from my call without a new call in place. It was not really my choice. I was in my second call, loving every minute of it. The rural community felt great. The congregation and I were challenging each other and learning and growing together. But then something happened, I am not sure I will ever know exactly what, and my ability to be their pastor came to an end. For the sake of the community and the congregation, I needed to remove myself from the situation.

So there I was without call, without any prospects before me, hurting so badly I was not sure I wanted another call even if there was an option. In fact, I was not sure I ever wanted to be part of a congregation again if it was going to be this ugly and hurt this badly. Pile on the guilt and shame and feelings of failure: and yes, life was tough.

Rev. Alyssa Augustson competing with a client horse “LuLu”(owned by Rosey Paulson) at Lincoln Creek in 2018.

When I began searching for something to do—anything really—so that we could continue to pay our rent, I found myself back in the world of training and competing dressage and jumping horses. I found myself doing things I love: riding, training, competing, cleaning stalls, and all the other work that goes along with the care of horses.

Growing up with horses, I spent the first twenty or so years of my life working toward a career as a riding instructor and trainer. Cleaning stalls, scrubbing buckets, and measuring feed with meticulous attention became one of my strongest spiritual practices. I was centered. I was in the moment. I was grounded. And there I was, once again, living in this spiritual practice with some added adrenaline on competition weekends as the horses I had in training would gallop around cross-country courses full of intimidating jumps.

Shortly after bumping my horse hobby back into professional mode, I also contracted with a dog walking company in Portland. Soon enough I was easily getting my 10,000+ steps in every day, making many new canine friends, and appreciating the company’s focus on being open and welcoming to all in a way that, dare I say, I have not experienced in the church.

The competitive riding season came to an end and the horse jobs with it. The Portland rains began. I was bumped to full time dog walker. Through hundreds of thousands of steps (who is counting?!) and hundreds of poo baggies, I also learned that there is no such thing as “waterproof” in the Pacific Northwest winters. With my many hours each day alone with the doggos (and kitties, birds, chickens, fish, turtles, bunnies, hedgehogs, and all the other critters I found myself caring for), rainy day after rainy day, I began to get restless. It was the same restlessness I had had my first years of college as I struggled to discern what God was calling me to do with my life.

I have heard people say on occasion, “If there is anything else you can do beside be a pastor, do it.” I have tried. Really, I have. In my first call, I took online classes in equine hoof care. I needed to know there were other options out there. I never completed the certification. My sense of call always brought me back to where I belong as a pastor, no matter how tough things got. Again, since resigning my call in rural Oregon, I have tried to do something else. I have done things I love deeply. I have built relationships with horses and their owners. Hundreds of dogs have shown me around their neighborhoods. But the restlessness always returns.

Alyssa with her horse Olive in February 2019.

Occasionally, I am invited to supply preach. At first it was challenging to return to the pulpit. But the fear faded,and I began to fall in love with the communities of faith as they reaffirmed my gifts for ministry, and I affirmed theirs. And with all supply preaching, the time comes to step away as the congregations receive their newly called pastors or their pastors return refreshed from vacations. And then, for me, the restlessness returns.

Ministry is hard. There is nothing wrong with looking around, taking a class here and there, looking through job postings. Sometimes we pastors know that there are other options out there for us, even if deep down we know we would be denying a call that is at the core of our identities. As young women in ministry, we experience the cruelty of the systems and of the world in ways that others maybe never experience. It is okay to find hope by looking and dabbling in other career possibilities, knowing that the call is still there.

This time away from wearing the collar has been healing for me, likely necessary for my survival, but it must soon come to an end.

I am a pastor. I cannot not be a pastor. Riding horses, cleaning stalls, walking dogs, I am a pastor. I can be nothing else. Until a community of faith calls me to partner with them in faithful ministry and the collar goes back on, I will carry the restlessness that comes with not living in congruence with who I am. And it will be tough. But I know I am not in this alone. You are not in this alone. We are called, and it will, at times, make our lives tough. But we are surrounded by fellow Young Clergy Women, all the women who have traveled this path before us, and all those who will come after us.

Alyssa is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, currently on leave from call. She and her spouse, Dan, also a pastor in the ELCA, currently reside just outside Portland, Oregon with their dog, Vicar Boadicea Geraldine, kitty, Madelaine, and two horses, Shiney and Olive. Alyssa is a graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

Image by: Dan Heath
Used with permission
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