Shortly after ordination I accepted a job back in the diocese. We moved back to the city we had lived in before the exile and put our kids back in the same schools – it was as if we had taken an extended vacation to a winter wonderland and now returned to life as usual.
The church of my first call was a very large highly structured place. In many ways it was the complete opposite of the church of my internship. There, at internship, I was on a collegial staff, invited into all levels of decision making and team leadership. Here, at first call, I was in a hierarchy of leadership that required a lot of learning how to do it the “right” way. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say that it was stifling. I truly wanted to learn how to do ministry, I just wanted to be me in the process…so, much of what I learned was what I did NOT want to do…overwork clergy as if the American corporate model was what we should be doing in church…emphasize perfection as if perfect is the same as offering God our best….things like that.
After about 18 months at first call church I accepted a call to be the rector of a small church about 45 minutes west of where we were living. It was the summer of 2000 and my first day at this church was August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration. I really hoped that that would bode well for our ministry together. I stayed with that church for 7 years and we did a lot of good ministry together. And, although the church gained a lot of new members (about 33% of the parish were new members) – it also experienced a lot of losses from death and those who left over church politics and the bishop thing of 2001. In other words the actual membership went down…My time there was marked by helping the parish and the people find their voices and embrace diversity while figuring out who they were and what their passion was. We did this in a number of ways, ultimately focusing on refugee ministry, which gave us a great way to look beyond ourselves. However the church was often on rocky financial ground and I never felt secure in my position. I felt that the church needed to rethink its leadership and its direction and could not do that as long as I was there. So, after a long two year search, I accepted another call.
This new call is a combination of my experience at the first call, the big highly structured church, and my previous one – a place in need of lots of pastoral care. I feel well qualified for this call, although I am still new and learning my way.
Over the years I have taken many workshops on Congregational Development, read numerous books on leadership, practiced self-care, made sure that I had support systems with clergy groups, spiritual director, found the Jungian priest/therapist (who helped me so much during that two year search), and now I’ve added the consultant….I’ve tried to keep learning and growing and modeling healthy ministry and church life. After nearly 9 years at this I think I am finally finding my preaching voice. I’m still learning how to manage my anxiety and be a non-anxious leader. Now I’m learning how to be a leader for a parish and a staff. The staff dynamics here are complex and a little messy…and it doesn’t help that the staff are all 15-20 years older than me, and sometimes call me “dear.” (sigh)
As I have grown into the priesthood I have learned a lot about myself. I have lived through many dark years of feeling abandoned by God and still hung in there and practiced a life of faith and leadership, priesthood. It was a life changing time of challenge, darkness, and then eventually, hope. It was also the same time I began to blog and met this on-line community.
I wonder if perhaps chrysalis is the heart of life? Surely it is the time of living through profound struggles which ultimately cause deep transformation. All this and, for me at least, doing it in the footsteps of Christ.
I began the journey as a person who tended to let life happen to her… As a person who felt incapable of activating real change and who lived more superficially than reflectively. I’ve become a very different person inside and out…I am aware of the wisdom that my life has embued me with…not that I am inately wise, but I can learn…Now, I’m not suggesting that my challenges are over, only that now I have a deeper well of resources to tap into…more confidence…and a structure in place to help me think through what I face…