Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Date

[This semester, I am taking a class called Vocational Discernment for a Sustained Life of Ministry.  Our first assignment was to write a creative conversation in which we discuss our call to ministry with another person.  This is my paper.]

I have been going on a lot of dates lately and inevitably at some point during the date, the conversation turns to how I am in seminary and that I am a Quaker.  Here is an only slightly exaggerated version of how those conversations go.

DATE:  So, you’re in seminary.  Does that mean you want to be a minister?

ME:  Actually, I already am a minister.  I was recorded as a minister by my Quaker meeting last June.

DATE:  Recorded?  What does that mean?

ME:  Quakers do not have ordination―we believe that only God can ordain ministers.  Instead, Friends observe and record the gifts of ministry.  My meeting observed my gifts of minister over several years, then I went through a recording process, and the meeting recorded me as a minister in a special business meeting.

DATE:  I don’t really know much about Quakers.  How are they different from other denominations?

ME:  Quakers believe that everyone has direct access to God.  Instead of looking outside ourselves for guidance, we turn to the inward Christ, or the light of God that we believe is inside of each of us to guide us.

DATE:  If we all have God inside of us, why do Quakers need to get together in groups?  Can’t you just turn inward?

ME:  A couple reasons.  One is that we are not always good at discerning what is coming from God and what is coming from us.  Our Quaker meetings help us to tell the difference.  Also, we believe that God can speak to us through anyone, so during our meetings, we wait in silence to see if anyone will feel led by God to speak.

DATE:  Wait, do you hear God talking to you?

ME:  Yes, I believe I do.  I hear God in the things that other people say to me, and in the things they do without speaking.  I also hear God in messages in meeting, and in nudges that I feel throughout the day to do or not do something, or to hold someone in prayer.

DATE:  But have you ever heard God speak to you directly, with words?

ME:  Yes.  That doesn’t happen very often, but I have experienced it.

DATE:  Can you tell me about a time when it happened?

ME:  A good example is the story that I consider my call to ministry.

It was in 2008, at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.  I enjoyed the conference very much, but by the end of it, I felt exhausted and very ready to go home.  I had agreed to be co-clerk of the planning committee for the next conference, and I was feeling overwhelmed because I had never done anything like that before.


I was sitting in our final worship for the conference when I heard God say to me, “It’s not always going to be this easy.”

I said, “What?”  Of all the words I could think of to describe my experience at the conference, “easy” was not one of them.

God responded, “Yes, this is the easy part.  It is going to be a lot harder after this.  But I will be there too.”

DATE:  Wow.  That sounds intense.

ME:  It was.

DATE:  Has it been hard?

ME:  Yes, sometimes ministry has been very hard.  I tend to resist God―mostly out of fear―making it harder for myself.  But I have always had the sense that God is with me.

DATE:  I get the sense that for you, ministry means something different from being a pastor of a church.  Is that right?

ME:  Being a pastor is one form of ministry, but I do not feel called to pastoral ministry right now.  My ministry has taken lots of forms: I have done traveling ministry among different branches of Friends, I lead workshops and preach, and I do quite a bit of writing.  I try to stay open to what I feel God is calling me to do.

DATE:  But what about seminary?  Why go to seminary if you are already a minister?

ME:  One reason is that I carry a concern for supporting leaders in the Religious Society of Friends.  We don’t always do a good job of supporting leaders, and I wanted to go to a school that was clear in its support of leadership and bring what I learned there back to my denomination.  


I was also hoping that seminary would help me learn how to have a sustained life of ministry.  Burnout is far too common, and I would like to be able to do this for as long as I feel God is calling me.

DATE:  I know that you are also a lawyer.  Are you planning to continue practicing law?

ME:  I am doing some legal work while I am in seminary to help pay the bills, but I am hoping to transition to full-time ministry over the next few years.

DATE:  And you’re from Alaska?  Are you planning on going back there after you finish seminary?  Or back to Oregon?

ME:  Probably not.  I love the Pacific Northwest, but I will probably go wherever I find a job.

DATE:  It sounds like you are going through a lot of changes in your life right now!

ME:  Indeed.  How about you?  Let’s talk about you for a while!

4 comments:

  1. I imagine two possible outcomes from this: Either the date ends with a polite "I'll call you..." or they fall deeply in love with your sincerity and intensity. This conversation (which reminds me of many of the conversations Mark & I had when we were still just friends) sure beats the usual date small talk about TV shows and sports teams!

    with love,
    Mary Linda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Funny, Mary Linda! I was never very interested in small talk.

      Delete