Here I am, officially in my 5th year of ministry and in my second full time appointment. I just celebrated one year at Morgantown UMC this past July, and I’ve loved a lot of things about being an only pastor, such as sermon writing/planning, preaching weekly, leading worship, teaching small groups and classes, and guiding the church through new ideas and decision making. And of course, working with many different kinds of people and always learning more about life in a small town.
In the past year, Corey has gotten a job (finally!) and we have settled into life here. But I don’t really like the word “settle” because in truth, we should never really feel or be “settled.” We should always be thinking about how we can move forward and progress as human beings. This also applies to faith. John Wesley, founder of the Wesleyan/eventually United Methodist movement, had this idea about moving onto perfection. It’s a great moment every year at Annual Conference when the Bishop asks the candidates who are being ordained, “Do you expect to move onto perfection in this life?” And all of us clergy are then reminded that at one time, we too answered yes to that very question, whether or not we fully understood what it really meant at the time in a practical sense. Our theological training in seminary only takes us so far…and then we are thrown into ministry, which gives us an education beyond what anything really can prepare us for. Ministry, at its core, is about attempting to move onto perfection. Life, at its core, is about progressing and evolving into the best form of ourselves that we can possibly attain. Maybe perfection is a scary word- it is for me, but it keeps me grounded in the idea that with God’s help and guidance, we can aim beyond ourselves in order to be shaped and molded in love.
With that in mind, I wonder what the next year, 3, or 5 years holds for my ministry and for the church (generally speaking). The challenges are many, but the possibilities are endless. However, before progressing further, I would like to voice what my deepest fears and questions are about the church (when I say church, I mean the Church in general, not my local congregation). Perhaps these issues will be addressed in more detail in later blog posts, but here they are right now, simply posed as questions. I’m guessing that you have many of the same.
1) Will the church ever fully overcome its intolerance of homosexual persons? Along the same lines, will our country ever fully embrace same-sex couples, allowing marriage and equal rights?
2) What will the church look like in 5, 10, 15 years if young people continue to see it as irrelevant, hypocritical, and out of touch? Will we even have the Church (as we know it) in 100 years?
3) Has the church completely lost touch with the real message and true Gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we let our institutions get in the way of living the way that Jesus taught us? Do our institutions help us or hinder us?
4) Has the human race become so self-obsessed, so evil, so overcome with violence that we are beyond saving?
My sister, who does not attend church and is not a Christian, frequently asks me why I do what I do and why I believe what I believe in a world that, frankly, makes it difficult to believe in God. After seeing the horrors of Auschwitz firsthand this past summer, the evil of this world couldn’t be more real to me, and the stories we see on the news today do not make it any better. But at the end of the day, the message of Jesus speaks to me in a way that says there is hope, if we only turn to one another out of love, joy, peace, and forgiveness. And there are days when I feel as if my only option is to turn to God and say, “Ok, God, what next?” “Ok, church, what are we going to do about this?” And on a more personal level, “How can I use my life today to make a difference- as a clergy person, as a woman, as a child of God?”
I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Raw Faith that followed a woman Unitarian Universalist pastor in her ministry for 2 years (watch it when you get a chance!). She said that no one can really prove there is a God, but that we have a choice to believe in God. We choose to make that choice. I choose to make that choice. I choose to live into my calling as a pastor. That is a conscious choice I make every day- to live my life, open to serving, open to whatever challenges come, open to the new and unknown. I heard a profound statement from this pastor, who starts every morning during her meditation and prayer time with this question to God, 4 simple words: “I’m available. What next?”
What if we all made that our prayer? What if the church made it her prayer?
I’m available. What next?