So… yesterday, with all your wonderful encouragement, I hatched a plan for how I might stay at the church even as I navigate the massive academic hurdles in front of me. This was the dream I was nurturing… taking February off to get into a good academic/family/personal rhythm and be in prayer about a continued ministry… then… starting again on Transfiguration Sunday I’d be back in, if they still wanted me. I have workable sermons through Easter- including a monologue series I wrote with a colleague my last year in the parish I served (if they would be open to that). And then we’d see from there. I was also dreaming off making an arrangement with a Divinity Student who could provide pastoral care to the congregation and preach at least monthly, whom I could mentor. This seemed like a great formation opportunity for me. I also wanted to step up and become the moderator of their session. If I was going to continue there I wanted to be better acquainted with all the ministry that is transpiring there. And I wanted to provide them some administrative leadership. I was thinking about making an appointment with the field ed office at the Div School and seeing if this plan could possibly be a reality. It was an exciting plan.
But I wasn’t at peace with it.
So I talked, talked, talked to colleagues and one professor today and I had half of a conversation with the current moderator of their session. And still… unclear… not at peace.
But those colleagues and that professor said wise things. They brought me to neutral. One of my colleagues said “So… here’s what I’m thinking. You’re enjoying writing sermons. You’re enjoying offering pastoral care. You are sure you’d enjoy moderating. What exactly is the surprise here? You’re a pastor. Of course you enjoy these things. It’s kind of like hanging out with an old girlfriend. It’s usually not a good idea.” He said more, but that’s the basic idea. Smart. He also said, “The great things happening lately? Maybe they’re lovely parting gifts. They’re not necessarily call.” Really smart.
I shared my discernment dilemma with another colleague who said “You’re attached to them now? Because before it always sounded like you were just preaching and happy to leave any time.” “I know,” I replied, “That’s where I was. Until I gave my notice.” “Well, maybe you have permission to love them now because you know you’re leaving.” Mmmm… smart.
And then I talked with the head of my fellowship program, who also was a solo pastor in a rural northeast context (in the same state as me) before he went back for his Ph.D. I mostly processed some other things with him. But at the end I shared this. And he said “It’s not a bad thing that you’ve realized you love them. That’s a good thing. But this academic process, it’s a pruning process, often a really painful pruning process, you have to keep cutting and cutting way trying to nurture and cultivate a blossom. And it’s really hard. Which is why, when you get the blossom, you have to put it to good use.” He also said something like “They’re never going to find anyone while you’re there. Why should they? They will do worse than you.” Aw… Mostly though, in our half hour plus together he affirmed my capacities as a theologian, sought to remove the very real vocational insecurity. And it helped. He said so many wise things.
But still not clear. Not at peace.
I spoke with their current session moderator and heard of a recent discernment struggle she has had in relation to this congregation. I didn’t have a chance to process my struggle with her so we were going to talk more this evening and may yet.
And then I went to a Piloga class for the first time (Yoga and Pilates). A colleague who is a few years ahead of me who I have not seen for awhile was also in the class. We caught up briefly before the class began. I briefly explained what lies ahead of me academically this year and that I am probably terminating a preaching gig, but wrestling with that. She nodded “I know. There came a time when I had to stop all the doing that meant so much to me and just be with this work. It was hard. But it had to happen.” And then we went our separate ways for the class.
At the beginning of the class the teacher asked us to set an intention for the hour, anything we were really working on, patience, whatever… so I set the intention of clarity. The class felt great. I mean, truly, truly wonderful. This will be a Tuesday evening ritual this semester. And various wise bits from the day came back to me late in the hour. And at some point when I was lying on the mat breathing deeply at the end I was at peace and clear. I will not be working on the dream plan for staying in the church. I need to go all in on my formation as a scholar this year. Sure, I don’t know that I can do any of what lies ahead. I do know that I can preach, and moderate, and mentor…. I am tempted, so tempted, to do what I know I can do. But I need to embrace the unknown. That’s why I’m here. That’s what this six year time period (which is almost half done) is for. It may be sad. It will definitely be hard. But it is what I need to do.
I’m so glad I didn’t let anyone at the church know I was thinking about staying. So glad.
And I’m so grateful for all of you.