Today I woke, too early. The terror of falling in my dream matching my racing heart in my now awake state. Leaving my bed, so that I wouldn’t tempt the dream to complete its course, and sitting in the corner of my home office, in my comfy brown leather couch, and with my phone in hand. Out of habit opening my calendar to view today’s schedule… nothing! Christmas is done. Well not completely, but the services are finished. The creativity is able to take a little bit of a break, the worries of words that would ‘hold the space’, words and actions portraying the waiting and anticipation have driven their course all the way to the celebration. And now, I am sitting here. A different terror playing out, with my want to suddenly be busy again.
A full year of ministry. A full year of the liturgical Calendar and now a little into the next. I know that I could never have guessed what would unfold, untangle, unwind, or even indeed what would remain stubbornly intact. I knew through the eyes and sometimes soft words of much wiser clergy; this would be a full life. One amplified and sometimes on show. But mostly a life of shifting from story to story, placed carefully in your hands if not to hold than just to linger for a moment. Trusting whispers, and sometimes tempered bellows. I would be expected, and sometimes needed to craft thoughtful responses to some of the wildest questions and yet far too many ordinary questions as well. They would all be equally important and as unique as the questioner.
Starting my year in the book of John, one of my favourites! Fearing and wondering if the inspiration would run out for the next sermon, or the next children’s talk, or the next response to one of those ordinary questions. But even the weeks that found me, late on a Saturday night firming up the final point of a sermon, or re-writing it from scratch, something would always click, something would land, and I would have something to say the following day. I wish I could say that it was due to my prowess with the Word, and some magical hand on mine massaging the message out, in the corner of a café, craftily twisting my Lamy pen on the pages of my reflective journal… but mostly it was a team effort. It was the living, breathing everyday interactions with members of my congregation, my local community and even sometimes my online community, that would land the reading in a new way, stirring the words into thoughts, and then onto paper, where Thursday or Friday there they would be, on the page in front of me… stripped of the definitions, the hermeneutical functions, the historical framing and clunky text book answers. But like a clay maker, I would often wonder if it was enough.
There would be times throughout the year, where I would insistently wonder if I was enough. How could I have the next conversation? How could I possibly walk alongside the next phone call and what in the world can I do!? Sometimes the answer would form, sometimes other people will move the functions into place, and yet other times we would sit in the uncomfortable silence broken intermittently by a sob or the blowing of a nose . This part is the hardest, the question about whether or not I should be here. Imposter syndrome. This would seep into my lack of physical activity, and my relationship and friendships. Quietly tying me to my desk, on a too regular basis. Yes, I would go out and be with people and get through the day, but often the getting through felt heavy and not relaxed.
Relax! I asked friends about this feeling and reached out to the right folk for some help categorizing and defining these moments, and this story inside all of the other stories. Some gently reminding me of my place within all of this, and others kicking me in the butt too. Without community, friends inside and outside of the church I’m not sure I would have seen my reflection at all. Drawn out and a little weary, feeling as though life was a constant camp, or conference, never fully pulling all of the clothes out of my backpack before needing to move to the next stop. Only my closest friends, my supervisor and some select others would know this is where I have been throughout my year, the valley and the mountain top being as far to fall as the building I dreamed about at the beginning of this reflection.
These extreme highs and extreme lows, filled in the middle with the monotony of paper moving from inbox, to archive, and when not needed to be recorded eventually to the bin, would carry me through till Advent. When I would recognise from the week before advent, the things that I had forgotten, the people I had left in the cold, the moments that I had missed. No, I was not enough. But Jesus is. Hope would remind me and my congregation to look to creation, for the signs and wonders of the Christ Child, the possibility of God with us. Peace would remind me of the need to remember those who had been before me, and those who would come after, to make the paths straight. That valleys would be filled, and mountains would be humbled. No, I was not enough. This would be a team effort. Joy would remind me, I can only aim to produce good fruit, but the spirit would refine the rest, like water and fire even though it hurts. And then I would remember the great joy of following, being with and sharing. No, I wasn’t enough, but I could do one good thing and give thanks one more time, and that would be enough. And love, love would see a child named after a strong woman of faith, sharing her name with the Persian word for star and a history deeper than our understanding. Listening to a song sung first by Hannah, and then by Mary. We would baptise and love this child into her own journey, her story already changing the hearts of those who could see her, cooing and wide eyed through the service. But we would wait a little longer for the Christ child.
No, I am not enough, and that is okay, because in spite of my irrational tendency to look for the right answers, and to know exactly where to be and what should be said, I didn’t need to be enough in any of the situations I would step into, I just needed to be there. Sometimes to urge people to get on with it, sometimes, to churn the words, sometimes to hold up a mirror and far too often just to nod or smile to celebrate other people’s faith and successes. Would I do it again? Yes! In fact I already have started. Will I learn from my wonderings? Not completely, but I do have a lot of new Instagram and IRL moments to reflect on. Will I doubt myself? Yes! But I hope that I will not doubt my God nearly as much.
Some helpful things:
Part way through the year I ran into an old acquaintance. Instead of asking how I was, instead of providing me with the opportunity to share with them. They suggested that I had put on far too much weight to be healthy. Yes, partly true. Yes, helpful from the right person. But I had just buried dear and wonderful people, I had just gotten through my first few months of ministry. And I had just come to terms with how isolating this journey can be. I nearly balked, the balloon that had just started to be filled again had been popped. But the English in me decided I should politely nod and offer them another piece of cake and a cup of tea (which always seems to be in abundance in the church! … please offer me fruit or water…).
Heading overseas to hear others speak about speaking (Homiletics festival), was one of the best things I could have done! It would be permission giving, and deeply quenching. Showing up ready to soak in the wisdom of some of the theologians who carried me through my college days. They would carry me back into my ministry, their lessons and guidance dancing and weaving throughout my own reflections, which were suddenly brought to life behind a microphone only metres away, in buildings with stories to old and long to share here.
Life, death and resurrection. This cycle will guide you through liturgy and life. Looking for where each story, situation and context might be in that cycle is freeing and rejuvenating. But it takes empty hands and a clear mind to pick up the tapestry to really feel how much or how little yarn there is left on the spool.
Thank you, dear friends, for your companionship. Sorry to those who I have let down or not done enough for. My personal trainer, my psychologist, my supervisors, you have kept me buoyant and safe in the deep and placed my feet on the ground in the shallow. Chris, my partner has kept me real, has been patient, has learnt far too much in far too short a time, and still waits for me each night to ask how my day/night was.
This is my first post and I am looking forward to creating some more time over the next twelve months to share a little more as I go.
3 thoughts on “A full year of ministry”
Sounds like a rich year of learning and serving. A great chance to reflect and rejoice and rest in the embrace of God’s love and the support of many well wishers.
Yes. First year, fifteenth, thirty-first…
Each has wonder – whether looking forward or back!