This past weekend, I was the liturgist at my home church; I had the honor of being the liturgist for the pastor who essentially started this whole process, or opened my eyes to the potential for my call – the woman my home church called to the role of minister of education and who is now associate minister. I couldn’t be more proud of the minister she has become in her last seven years serving God and my home church, who God has molded and shaped her to be, how God has walked alongside her, comforted and supported her in her highs and lows, and how God has taught her to be a strong and compassionate leader of a church that desperately needed to learn some humility, humanity, and most of all, to learn that it too was just as human and beloved by God as the rest of the world! She very much was a transformative part of that ministry, if not the catalyst that got it started! And so, coming back, after four years of undergraduate work and three years of seminary (at the same seminary that trained this most incredible leader of the church and woman of God) felt like slipping on a shoe that fit just right, but also like walking alongside a trusted friend and mentor.
You see, my home church is a wonderful place, and has long supported my call to ministry, from the very beginning, but has been an avid supporter even more so in the last year, as the months draw closer toward the possibility of ordination, as the leadership changed slightly, and as the dynamics changed. Regardless of this, I feel as though it could also be that I too have changed, as I have grown into my understanding of what it means to be a leader of the church, and a lover of God in this role that is pastor, preacher, pastoral caregiver, and jack of all trades.
Maybe it wasn’t so much the church changing as me changing, but when I returned to do pulpit supply this last June, the same nerves of last August (when I preached there last) were no longer as strong, nor were they as present in the forefront. Experience and time changes all, and my senior year definitely did grow and mold me in more ways than one. The small things no longer bug me in the same way as they did a year ago, and yet, other things do. Preaching at my home church last month felt like returning to a comfortable environ, and yet, the sweet people who remembered me when I was a little tyke struggled to envision me as an experienced pastoral presence – as someone with an M.Div. who was heading out into the ministry as a hospital chaplain, with already 28 months of experience in hospital ministry and nearly two and a half years of church ministry experience. To them, I would be the perpetual pre-teen (or younger for many), with the frizzy ginger hair and acne running around the Edwards Room seeking the bagels and juice, or looking for my Sunday School classroom.
Coming home to preach or do liturgy is always a positive experience, and an experience I am ever grateful for, and yet, I feel like someone toeing the line between their youth and adulthood, between the old and the new, between their young immaturity and God’s calling that lies in leadership and a pastoral presence. That leads me to believe that while I love home, home will never be the site of God’s call for me. It will always be a source of comfort, support and restoration, but never will it be the place that I will find God’s calling on my life so long as the people who knew me as a young person are there. The two cannot be co-existent with one another, for my sake, and perhaps more importantly, for the sake of those being served – the people of God!
It was the greatest blessing of mine to serve alongside my female mentor this past Sunday, to finally serve alongside, rather than be assisted, to assist, or to be helped, all words that imply needing help. This time, this Sunday, we were working as a team, a ministry team, a prayer team, and most importantly a team serving God’s people for the sake of worship. I suppose the time has come that I am no longer the seminary student, the candidate for ordination, but the certified candidate, the one with more experience, but most importantly the one who has changed and grown.
Life has happened, ministry has happened, seminary has happened, and now, I am no longer the seminary student or the intern, but now the one with more experience than before. So returning to old haunts, my home church included, feels different, and is experienced in different ways, as I am no longer the high school student preaching a poorly-written sermon on how the church has shown me love, but now preaching on theological subjects, praying, reading scripture, collecting the offering, and declaring the benediction. Times have changed, and pastoral presence is necessary.
Maybe it is possible in old haunts, or maybe new sidewalks, waves, beaches, stairways and apartments are necessary for God to call. Either way, God calls, and pastoral authority comes along with it.
The God phone is ringing, and I’m ready to pick it up. It just isn’t at home.