My Pastoral Beginning

In the latest Christian Century magazine (November 3) David J. Wood, senior pastor of Glencoe Union Church in Glencoe Ill., reviews a book called From Midterms to Ministry: Practical Theologians on Pastoral Beginnings, ed. Allan Hugh Cole Jr. His review of this book solidified my own need to reflect more deeply on my own beginning and on what has transpired since.

I don’t yet have the privilege of decades in ministry. I am one of those young pastors who only has years behind him, and few at that! I’m now on my fifth year being called pastor . . . five years of attempting to lead a faith community, five years of joys, disappointments, and continued discernment.

Maybe the fact that it’s so fresh allows me to remember more vividly the transition. Those painful mornings when I would arrive in my office wondering what I was supposed to do. Or those “firsts:” funeral, visit, someone makes an appointment to “see” you, ICU visit, sermon, broken pipe, leaky roof, “personnel” problems . . . the list could go on!

I also remember the pain of letting go of my life as a student. It could be described as a grieving process. No longer part of a community of learning. No longer part of this important rhythm of learning, prayer, service. In some ways it was a deeply formative rhythm in my life.

Getting up early to lead morning prayers in the chapel. Going to class and soon finding myself back in the chapel, this time for word and table. Then after more classes and one more chapel service I would find myself in chapel again to close my week. This time the rhythm slowed as we gathered, heard, reflected, and broke bread! Now empowered I was ready for whatever came my way.

I found it jarring not to have this communal rhythm of learning, prayer, and service in the local church. It was almost like I could not find my way without it . . . I was not sure I even knew who I was without it.

It was replaced by a more mundane one. Phone calls, e-mail messages, paperwork, and people “stopping by.” And then there were the meetings, deadlines (another newsletter had to go out) and a run to the hospital. No morning prayer, no lecture or exciting theological conversation, no word and table . . .

Then Katrina came! We had no floods of water where I lived, we had floods of people. Anxious people, tired people, scared people, people hungry for good news! Collared I went . . . to where people were, oil stock in hand, ready to listen. The stories came, the tears, the sadness, the fear and little by little their stories and the stories of the many others since, became my rhythm.

I’ve tried to leave many times . . . to run away to a better, more fulfilling vocation. I have tried to convince myself that I’ve been called to other things, to less mundane things, to more heavenly things! But then a knock on the door of my office, a ringing phone, an invitation to come by is all it takes; someone wants to talk, someone wants to share their story. The words of morning prayer ring in my ears “O Lord Open My lips, that my mouth shall proclaim your praise!”

I’ve been called to this and God is still calling me to it. It is the mundane that God has called me to, it is the ministry of healing, forgiving, and reconciling. The ministry of blessing, breaking, sharing; the ministry of being present in the name of the anointed and poured out One, Jesus the Christ.

Now if I could just remember that each day is a pastoral beginning!

Peace, Juan+

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