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Ask a YCW: Discerning a Call Edition

Dear Askie,

I think God is calling me to ministry! I never realized what a long and involved process it’s going to be to become a pastor. And did you know that even with a seminary degree, ordination isn’t guaranteed??? I was shocked to find out there are so many things I have to do! And so many people I have to impress and convince that they should ordain me! Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks,
Ordination Discerner

 

Dear Discerner,

Congratulations! Discernment is a wonderful thing. Everyone, everywhere should do it more often. Indeed the world would be a better place if we all endeavored to more fully align our will with God’s Dream for our lives on a regular basis. Blessings to you as you seek to explore God’s call to ordained ministry in your denomination. I hope this journey will be enriching and lead to a place of joy and fulfillment, whether that is serving God and the Church through ordination or as a baptized Christian. I have a number of years of experience working with people in ordination process (+ the additional years of my own process). Out of those experiences, I would like to offer some practical advice. I have noticed that sometimes people make missteps in the process, and I would like to assume that is most often due to a lack of education about process and expectations. Therefore, here is some friendly advice, with the caveat that this is just one person’s perspective and is neither an exhaustive list, nor one that will work or apply in all contexts and situations. Nonetheless, hopefully it will be helpful. Read more

Poem: Bumper Stickers

Some time ago I saw a bumper sticker taped to a car, and I got to thinking about our ideals and the permanence (or impermanence) with which we hold to them. What messages would you be willing to affix to your life forever? What messages come and go with the times?

Bumper Stickers

ah, dear driver of the hulking black metal,
you “Imagine Peace” in earnest black letters
on a wide strip of white—
and you trumpet your sentiment with
four careful pieces of tape,
tape that will dissolve into gunk,
but easily disappear with goo-gone
purchased at the hobby lobby.
where’s the commitment?
do you think Peace is justsoclose,
so easily imagined, like the song
on the tip of your tongue, then YES!
that nothing of yours need be peeled away
in the process?

I Cannot Do This Alone

The doctor pushed the curtain aside and left to document the conversation in the file, leaving Shon and I to absorb the jagged pill he had just forced us to swallow. “There’s something on the left side of your brain.” How were we supposed to respond to that? No questions came to mind. There were no particular concerns I could voice. I really did not even have any feelings at all, save utter shock. In that moment of revelation I could only stare at my husband and try to imagine the big dark mass lurking underneath his
thick brown hair and perfectly smooth scalp. It had to be a joke.

As I gradually regained my senses, all I could think of was the Epiphany service I was supposed to be leading in a couple of hours. Not long before it had seemed vitally important for me to be there early to set up. Now my mind was trying to figure out how to cancel the whole thing. I picked up the emergency room wall phone and shared the devastating news with Shon’s parents and then mine. One more time, I picked up the phone and called our volunteer choir director, Mickie, and told her the news. Mickie’s response was to walk straight over to the ER—she lives across the street from the hospital—and give us both hugs and assurances. She asked where my notes for the Epiphany service were. I told her. “Don’t worry about a thing, we’ll be fine.” And they were fine, the service went on, not as planned, but as needed, with lots of prayer.

Early on I learned that in order for me to keep my sanity, my job, and my family I had to communicate constantly with all parties. This was before we had a cell phone, so my fingers quickly callused from dialing the ga-zillion numbers required to make a call with a calling card through the hospital network. I kept our Clerk of Session and the Worship Committee Chair up-to-date, and notified the Executive Presbyter. They lined up pulpit supply for the two Sundays following Shon’s surgery.

During the first two years after Shon’s diagnosis, there were relatively few interruptions to my work schedule. He had no follow-up treatments, only MRIs every few months. The biggest lifestyle change involved the seizures. Shon was having about 16 seizures a month that affected every muscle on the right side of his body.

It took us a year and two doctors to finally reduce the severity and the number to around 3 per month. The seizures wore him out and often made him fall. They also made it impossible for him to drive. The Session and congregation allowed me to be flexible with my office schedule so I could take him to appointments, do much of my work from home and be with him on the days when he was especially weak.

The Session supported and encouraged my weekly meetings with a local Clergy Support Group as part of my Continuing Education allowance. All of the other pastors in this small group had several more years of ministry experience than I. I found it immensely helpful not only to vent frustrations and sorrows in their empathizing presence, but also to try out ideas and seek the advice of their collective wisdom. At this same time, I began seeing a counselor who helped and still helps me explore the deeper psychological and spiritual consequences of my experiences.

I look back on this time before the recurrence and think how easy things were then. Certainly they were not easy. But everything is relative; when the tumor came back in 2005, it was bigger, more aggressive, and we had a toddler. Life got exponentially more complicated! Read more

Congregational Interviewing 101 (Or What You Should Know About Parish Interviewing but No One Tells You… Or What I Wish I had Known a Few Years Ago)

No? What’s that? You experienced stress, anxiety, or confusion while looking for a position as an ordained minister? Blasphemy, blasphemy! Well, maybe so, but, given a choice, I’d rather be a blasphemer than a prevaricator.

When I was looking for my first ordained call, I thought I would have no problem. I am an attractive candidate… on paper, that is. I had degrees with Latin honors from two prestigious universities, internships in fairly diverse places, and some pretty good sample sermons. I was the ideal candidate in my own mind if nowhere else. What congregation wouldn’t want to issue a call to me?

I can’t believe I was so naive.

My resume may have gotten me interviews, but that’s about it. Once I got in the door, I had to interview well. I did fine on my one-on-ones with the head pastor, the persons who would have been my most
direct supervisor. The committee interviews were an entirely different story. I was interviewed—and rejected—by several parish committees before I had even written my final papers for divinity school. By the time graduation had rolled around, I had earned a few more rejections. I was freaking out, embarrassed, and unemployed to boot. I also felt like I was supposed to be all zen about everything, which I was not.

Looking back on it, part of the problem was that everyone, including me, thought that I would interview well. What I came to realize is that interviewing is itself an acquired skill. I share with you some of my own pitfalls, in hopes that you might seek out your own. Read more

What Did She Just Say?

“The disciples had been fishing all day, and they hadn’t caught anything whatsoever. They probably felt like crap.”

“You’re going to break your wedding vows. It might not be in a big, dramatic Grey’s Anatomy kind of way, but you will break them. I mean, I love my husband Jeff, but when I’m pissed at him for eating the leftovers I wanted for my own dinner, I’m pretty sure I’m not cherishing him.”

“So if you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, ‘Well, great, I’m screwed,’ don’t worry; you’re not alone.”

These words started making appearances on the smaller, more informal Wednesday night service, when I was preaching without notes. I soon found myself saying these kinds of things in my Sunday morning sermons to hundreds of people. I started to ask myself why recently.

 

Part of the “problem”  is that I’ve always loved words. My poor mother had to carry around this ridiculously small chatterbox of a child (I was in the first percentile, meaning 99% of the kids my age were bigger than I) who spoke in complete sentences but who couldn’t walk yet. When I did (finally) learn to walk, I used my newfound motor skills to make my way over to any available lap, book in tow, chanting, “Read the book; read the book.”

Soon I was sitting by the back door on my older sister’s “liberry” day, waiting to relieve her of her latest acquisition. A few years later, when most of my friends’ parents had rules about how long they had to read before being allowed to play or watch television, my mom had to make an entirely different set of rules: no reading until I was ready to leave; no reading after lights out; no reading at the dinner table.

Ironically, I had a speech impediment. Words that began with “r” or “l” came out sounding like they started with a “w.” My mispronunciations as a toddler were age-appropriate and thus somewhat cute. In second grade, I went to speech therapy to find my lost consonants. Talking became a chore; communicating orally was hard work and, quite literally, homework. I gradually became less and less talkative. My interest shifted even more to the written word. After years and years of reading others’ words, I began shaping words myself as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

To be honest, I sometimes wonder if my life might be just a little bit easier if I didn’t care about words so much. I still haven’t completely overcome my reluctance to speak. If someone else is willing to talk, I’ll generally let her, unless I think I have something to say worth hearing. If I weren’t so caught up in wanting to express myself well, I’d probably be less hesitant to speak. With the written word, there are built-in opportunities, even expectations, around editing that don’t exist with language in its oral form. If words didn’t matter to me, I’d change my words in my sermons to be less questionable. Read more