In the year 1995 my life changed utterly in two ways. First, I started the year by getting married – certainly a milestone in any life. Six months after that I began my journey on a path to which the Lord was calling me, and to which God still calls me twenty years later. TODAY is the 2oth anniversary of my ordination to Word and Sacrament Ministry. On June 25, 1995, through prayer and the laying on of hands, I became a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, set apart to preach God’s Word and administer the sacraments. I’m doing some BIG pastoral pondering on that event today.
In the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the normal course to ordination is to graduate from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree (a 4 year program), then receive a “call” from a congregation. There is the call to ministry, but a person must also receive a “call” from a specific congregation in order to be ordained. I obviously cannot underestimate the value of the academic education I received at seminary, but I also cannot underestimate the value of the friendships I made there, the relationships I continue to hold dear and that carry me daily through my ministry. While at seminary I met my husband and the woman who is godmother to all three of my children!
Graduation from seminary was truly a celebration, four years of hard work rewarded, except for one minor detail. While the Church affirmed my call to ordained ministry, I had no call to a congregation. I had no job. In the ELCA candidates are assigned to a synod (geographic area) and are placed in the care of a bishop whose responsibility it is to find them a congregation to serve. Many times candidates graduate from seminary with their congregations ready and waiting for them. But not me. I had gotten pretty far in the process for a position, but in my second interview, my attendance at a certain “women’s conference” came up. It led some people on the committee to believe that I was some kind of radical feminist man-hater, God-the-Father denier and Jesus’ resurrection doubter. It didn’t feel like an interview – it felt more like a trial.
It seemed like they couldn’t comprehend that a person can listen to a lecture at an academic conference and not agree with everything said. To them, attendance meant agreement. The idea that one can listen and learn about a different point of view, without subscribing to it, didn’t make sense to them. Sadly, this thinking is still far too true 20 years later – just look at the lack of political, social and religious discourse in our society. The committee was split evenly between those who wanted to proceed with me and those who wanted to end the process. In the synod to which I belong that’s a deal breaker.
My bishop even went and met with this committee PERSONALLY to try to sway them, but to no avail. In the Lutheran Church a bishop cannot force a pastor on a congregation. So my call process was dead. Back to square one. To his credit my bishop refused to present this church with another pastoral candidate – instead he assigned them interns for two years – the first intern was a man who was probably more of a feminist than me, and the second a woman who had attended the very same conference they found objectionable! That bishop (now retired) will always have a special place in my heart for this, and also because a few years later he was a supportive presence for my husband and me while we went through a very frightening period medically with our second child.
But I still had no job, no way to financially support myself. I had to find a job to “bide my time” till another appropriate church became open. In stepped a dear friend, whose husband happened to need a social worker as a full-time temporary replacement for an employee on medical leave. God provides. I was able to put my social work bachelor’s degree and experience to use, and make enough money to eat and afford a tiny three room third floor apartment. Long story short, it took a year to find the right “fit” for me. I graduated from seminary in May of 1994, and was ordained on June 25, 1995.
The twenty years since have seen me go from full-time ministry, to “on leave” (aka no congregational call), to VERY part-time, on leave again, and another very part-time call (my current congregational call). This see-sawing has been due to my choice to be as much of a stay-at-home mom to my children as I possibly can, while still staying involved in preaching and pastoral duties. Even when I was “on leave” I was still constantly preaching and helping out local congregations. The congregation I serve now is quite small and doesn’t have great pastoral time demands due to their size, so the situation has worked out well for them and for me.
I am most certainly not the same person who knelt for the laying on of hands twenty years ago. Since I received my stole I have given birth to three children, lived through an autism diagnosis for one of them, mourned the deaths of my father and both of my in-laws, been through the “better and worse” of marriage, and felt my call tested. Sometimes I’ve felt out of the loop in my synod because of my “very part time” status, and the fact that I’m limited in how I can participate in synod meetings because of time and travel. Thankfully, since I began using social media I’m getting to know new colleagues, keeping up better with synod and national Church events, and making wider connections with pastors and church leaders all over the country – this has helped immensely!
It’s been quite a journey. Each one of us is called by God to certain paths, to use the gifts God has given us to serve the Church and the world. For me, it is Word and Sacrament. For the past twenty years I have been honored to hold this office in the Church, humbled constantly by people’s trust in me as their pastor, grateful for the walk I have walked with them through the joy, celebration, sadness, worry, anxiety and sorrow in their lives. And the center of it all, of all our journeys individually and together – is God.
To God alone be the glory. Soli Deo Gloria.