As many of you know, I am spending this week in Collegeville, Minnesota with Martin Copenhaver, Lillian Daniel, a writing tutor and eleven other remarkable pastors. We are pastors who love to write, and we are seeking to learn more about our vocation as writers. What follows is my response to the question of why I write.
When I was first experiencing my call to ministry, I asked my pastor to point me towards women pastors with whom I could talk and learn. I wanted to have coffee or lunch with pastors who were “like me.” My pastor referred me to many different women but none of them had been able to balance the demands of the church with being a wife and a mom. None of them wore red lipstick or had perfectly manicured fingernails with toenails to match. It was not until seminary when I discovered that there were plenty of women like me – people who loved to have a cocktail on Friday night before getting their nails done on Saturday morning, individuals who loved to get dressed up just for the heck of it and dreamed of having it all – a growing church, a loving husband, and a couple of well-behaved kids.
I now realize that I have searched the last six years for stories with which I could resonate. I yearned for someone to journey with me through the wilderness of congregational decline where the signposts that read “closure” were much more identifiable than the ones that read “pathway to new life.” I would have paid for advice and assurance from pastors who had stood with good church folks who could initially see only six inches in front of them and yet seemingly lead these same people to the place where they had the capacity to see far into the future – a future filled with hope and new life instead of chained-link fences around a condemned property. To use language from St. John’s University – I wanted people like Donald Jackson who bought the entire supply of ink needed for the St. John’s Bible at pennies a stick decades before he was hired to create the project, or individuals like the potter on campus who asked for 300 years worth of clay found in a source that would soon dry up because he believed that the people at St. John’s would be creating pottery for three centuries to come. I longed for visionary mentors, pastors, and advisors who could help me lead my people to becoming more visionary. What I found was something different.
I found a seminary president who told me that I was a Hospice chaplain to a group of committed 80 and 90-year-olds who had given their life to the church. This seminary president told me that all I needed to do was to hold their hands while I waited for them to die while starting a new church at the same time.
I found a myriad of authors who made church growth seem as easy as following a recipe for homemade chicken potpie.
I found colleagues who were in the same boat with me – people who believed with their whole hearts that God was not finished with the church but had no idea where to begin in order to transform a congregation from a place of decline to a place of vitality.
I then found a congregation who was willing to do something new. They did not like the changes at first but they showed me that if I demonstrated love and commitment to them that they would try anything. I learned that bringing balloons to the home of a 94-year-old chairperson of the Finance Committee who had little positive to say about me at first could change everything – that the balloons would still be in her apartment, deflated and under the table, long after the budget she fought me tooth and nail on had passed.
I believe there are people yearning to be in conversation with someone like me – an under-forty woman who loves getting my nails done and then finding the perfect shade of red lipstick, one who knows the joys and discomfort of online dating before meeting a partner who has promised to stand with me for life, one who is still discerning whether to add ‘mother’ to the list of titles found in my biography, and one who absolutely loves being a pastor – one who has, in fact, discovered that W.E. Sangster was right when he said that being a pastor is a joy for which none of us are truly worthy.
I believe there are pockets of enormous potential across my denomination as well as the universal church – pockets that seem to gravitate towards darkness instead of allowing the glorious light of the resurrection to shine. I believe there are countless other people who have responded to God’s call on their life and then found themselves in the middle of a committee meeting where every participant wants to damper their pastor’s excitement instead of respond to their leadership and try something new. And, I believe there are many churches just like the one I serve – churches who say they don’t want to change only to later thank their pastor for bringing about so much change because the change has assured them that their church is not going to die – at least not anytime soon. I long to reach into my heart – into a vessel filled with pain, doubt, hurt, disappointment and immense joy and then strike a chord in the hearts of others who are experiencing these very same emotions as result of the church and the office of pastor. I don’t know how it will turn out – but I am willing to put myself out there and see what happens.
I’m a pastor at the core of my identity. Being a pastor is my vocation. But I am also a writer – someone who longs to take words and shape them, praying that God will use them to provide light, hope, and anticipation in the lives of others.
Will you be in conversation with me?