Faith Works 7-25-15
Not Just a Job, an Adventure
So, I'm exhausted. But the good kind.
You know, the kind of tired you are after having 4,000 house guests enjoy their stay, not break anything, engage in lots of active, even contentious conversation without any ugly arguments breaking out (not complete agreement, but civility and even love reigned supreme), and now they're gone.
That kind of tired.
It's good, and you're feeling the satisfaction of work worth doing having been done, and it's also something you're not so secretly relieved you won't have to do again soon.
As I mentioned last week, my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had their biannual General Assembly at the Greater Columbus Convention Center; it ended Wednesday night (and I'm writing it as we're about to all turn into Thursday colored pumpkins.
We had a Methodist speak to us to wrap-up, but that's not unusual for our folk, we were ecumenical before ecumenical was cool. Adam Hamilton of the Church of the Resurrection in the Kansas City area, a noted author as well as pastor, came to provide some workshop leadership on the last day and to preach us onto the road, and he reminded me to tell you something.
I love my job.
Perhaps some of you might say "do you call being a minister a job?" Good question, maybe you shouldn't, but the tax form and the census ask me to put something down on the form, and I write "pastor." I do an odd variety of things in the community, and there are those who know me primarily in other roles, but for over thirty years my main public role has been that of a set-apart ministerial leader in my church, a parson, a padre, a preacher.
I am an ordained minister, which means I have the full professional background and the degrees and certificates to show it, but I am also the called and installed pastor of a congregation, which in one form or another I've done since the 1980's, which is getting to be a long time. It's a vocation that has its challenges, and people can end up seeing the hard parts more than anything else: the hours, the expectations, the fishbowl (for my family as well as me), the pressures of sermons and situations where most folk look for the exit and we're trying to move closer to the heart of the crisis.
Yes, it's hard work. So's being an obstetrician, or a plumber, or an exterminator. Judges, deputies, elected officials, garbage truck riders: lots of ways to have a role in life that usually also has something to do with making a living that asks for much from the one doing it.
What I also get, that few see, are the rewards of being present to and with and for people in the most important moments of their lives. Some are incredibly painful, and a pastor has to see clearly that pain while also helping everyone see past it; some are so full of joy you can barely recall the moment for the tears of happiness and daze of exhilaration…there too, you have to help maintain perspective, or at least the presence of mind to tell the groom softly "okay, now turn and take her hand."
We share words that bring life even in the presence of death, and tie generations together in good times and bad. We receive confessions of faith, and admittances of guilt, and offer assurance of pardon that is inconceivable even to the person seeking it. We get to bring people together, often as simply as shouting "let's pause and say grace, shall we?" and we minister to those who think they are so alone they can't believe anyone is saying to them "are you alright?"
I love my job. It can be hard, and it can involve simply long periods of waiting (which for me, is really hard), even as the stretches of tedium can unexpectedly be broken into by moments of utter panic where, consciously or not, others expect us to keep our heads and know what to say or do. Which we sometimes pull off, and other times try to stumble through our own anxiety while keeping our footing enough to give those around us someone to hold onto.
And when my work is good, and I see hope abound and lives transformed and God's grace praised, it's all gravy (as Raymond Carver says). Gravy and pie and a hot cup of coffee, and eternity a beautiful landscape ahead.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him what you love about your calling at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.