I told him I liked his church’s t-shirt and now we are co-writing a blog with four other PC(USA) pastors. Our interaction occurred at Montreat Middle School Conference (a PCUSA church-wide summer conference); I tell you where this took place because at events like Montreat youth ministers pay attention to things like t-shirts, particularly cleverly conceived ones. (It was red and the words were a play-on-words using an old Dr. Pepper ad, for those wondering about the t-shirts.)
After commenting on the t-shirt our conversation entered standard pastoral territory where a litany of questions is asked of one another: where are you a minister? How long have you been there? What seminary did you attend? On the surface, these questions are generic, cordial ice-breakers meant to extend hospitality; but if we are honest they are also pastoral speed-dating questions.
Answering each other’s questions, Brian and I quickly realized we had much in common. Our paths to ministry, current calls and the fact that were both pastor’s kids illumined our compatibility. The key would be what happened next. Sure, we had commonalities and a bit of chemistry, but was this simply a summer fling? Over the course of the remaining days of the conference our conversations illuminated further connections and commonalities. Brian continuously uttered that our conversations were providential. They were. But that didn’t answer the question: what now? At the end of the week, in classic middle school fashion, we exchanged numbers, said goodbye and promised we’d keep in touch.
What is often unknown, and too often unspoken, about ministry is how lonely a profession it can be. Built into the youth lock-ins, sermon writing, curriculum building, pastoral visits, staff meetings and theological conferences is a self-fulling prophesy that we have to know all, be all and do all for our church folk. Because we live amongst the folks with whom we minister, we believe that means we must uphold that prophecy in both our personal and professional lives. Even though all of this is self-inflicted, it is draining and only exasperates the loneliness of ministry. That’s why we search for connections; that’s why we tell other ministers we like his t-shirt.
The questions that ensue after beginning a conversation with another minister are aimed at discerning whether this is someone with whom I might want an ongoing relationship during my ministerial career. As Brian and I continued to talk I mentioned I was entertaining the idea of starting a blog and asked if he had any experience in that field. Turns out, he was mulling over the same idea. When you find people within ministry (or whatever field in which you work) whose story resembles yours and who harbors similar ideas of what ministry could be, you know God’s at work. As we continued to talk we realized that each of us had friends in ministry whose journeys and outlooks mirrored ours.
What is also often unknown, and too often unspoken, is how public a minister’s world is. Our lives, words and actions are on display. Whether warranted or not, as ministers we are held to a different standard. This reality makes jumping out into the world of blogs, an incredibly public space, frightening. But the fear dissipates when you have a community in which to operate. Finding friends and family members who shared similar stories, Brian and I were able to amass a group of pastors in the 30-something-age-range who would be willing to share her/his story for the group and the readers of this blog. The loneliness and public nature of ministry are daunting challenges ministers must endure; but when we focus so heavily upon what we don’t have we fail to acknowledge the gifts God graciously bestowed upon us–gifts that were intended to be used to share the Good News of the Gospel.
The hope of each blogger is that our words become an expression of what it means to use to have been called to ordained, pastoral ministry within the PC(USA) church. Providentially, we’ve met each other at conferences, seminary, through family members and at local clergy groups and after initial conversations decided to take a leap and see if the other wanted to exchange numbers and keep in touch. As we’ve found through sharing our own stories, we have more in common than we ever thought possible. This reality is the main impetus for writing this blog, because there are others out there with similar stories that are in need of some sort of encouragement, love, support and community. We certainly don’t believe we have all the answers, but we do have something the world needs more of: stories of hope, grace and love–all of which we bestowed upon us by the Triune God. Enjoy the blog and share it, should you feel so inclined.