Will you serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? PCUSA Ordination Question #8
I answered that question – plus eight other questions – 30 years ago today when the Presbytery of Boston ordained me to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Also present that day were my parents, grandmother, and Aunt Jane (who have all passed away), two former fiancés (who make me appreciate HH more than I can say), my siblings, and several friends. At that point, I’d not even met my HH or imagined that we’d have three such exceptional children.
Since that date, I’ve been blessed to serve two congregations as their pastor, and now I serve one Presbytery of about 100 congregations. I have been ridiculously blessed in ministry.
In 30 years of trying to keep my ordination vows, there are countless stories I could share, but if I had to offer basic advice to a person considering professional ministry, I’d start here:
- Professional ministry is profoundly easier if you have high levels of physical and psychic energy. The pinball-like shifts from pastoral visiting to sermon writing to meeting planning to intensive attention-paying are exhausting. The reality of shifting God’s people from a 1950s model of ministry to a 21st Century model of ministry means we serve two congregations at once: the congregation that cannot/will not change and the congregation that is willing to allow the Spirit to move in fresh ways. Good news: Sabbath is required.
- A high emotional intelligence score helps. I know many brilliant pastors who are top notch theologians and historians, but their personalities are abrasive or snarky or cold. Pastors who need to know-it-all, pastors who are threatened by other talented people, pastors who are not self-aware will not be successful in professional ministry. Good News: Emotional intelligence can be learned.
- The best professional ministers are relentlessly imaginative – and not merely in terms of liturgical arts. They imagine A New Church – or The Next Church, if you will. They do not settle for a tired narrative. They can see it – that thriving church which is possible if the people will be led. Good News: Social media makes it increasingly easy to connect with other imaginative people.
- Loving your people is essential. Sometimes we will not like our parishioners
very muchat all, but if we don’t love them, we’re doomed. Even the really hard-to-love ones are God’s children and they are probably nasty because they need love. Authentic, I-honestly-don’t-care-if-you-aren’t-perfect love. Good news: If they won’t let us love them, we can always leave and find a people who will let us love them.
I’ve always thought that the best way to answer the ordination questions was “I’ll really try” – especially that outrageous question about working for the reconciliation of the world. Good luck with that, is all I can say.
When I went to seminary, I had never seen or heard a clergywoman. Seriously – I met my first clergywomen on the first day of seminary. And now there are quite a few of us. It never occurred to me on that Sunday in April 30 years ago that I would do this for the next three decades. I hadn’t even been alive for three decades.
So far, it’s been pretty great. But nevertheless, I covet your prayers as I continue trying to be energetic, intelligent, imaginative, and loving for as long as God will use me. So grateful.
Image of an anonymous sister in ministry on the day of her ordination.