My son, Sam, got sick last week for the first time in his almost 11 months of life outside the womb. Some horrible mean virus attacked his tiny little system causing a high fever and general discomfort. Even though I knew he was fine (well, after the pediatrician had confirmed that he was fine), I still couldn’t bear to leave his side. I wanted to literally nurse him back to health and reassure him that the world is not as terrible as it must have seemed to him at the time. I wanted Sam to know that I will always be there, especially when life is hard.
But the truth is, I won’t. Turns out we actually can’t be in two places at once. No matter how much we want to be.
Because I was home with sick little Sam, I was not able to be at work. I missed one of the most important weekly responsibilities of my ministry with college students: our Tuesday night gathering. I was very conflicted about my decision. On one hand, I knew Sam would be fine with a caregiver for a few hours. On the other, I felt that leaving him went against every motherly instinct I was feeling. On one hand, I knew the Cooper House students would have a great dinner and Bible study whether I was there or not. On the other, I want the students to know how much I care about and value them. When it came down to it, I chose to be with Sam instead of the students. Another time I might make a different decision. Ministry is full of such decisions.
A couple days later I visited the chair of our board of directors and her husband who had been emergently admitted to the ICU. We were discussing the meeting I missed and she commented, “It’s good for the students to be reminded that this is their ministry.” I nodded and smiled in agreement. Then later, it struck me that I maybe I needed the same reminder.
A seminary professor of mine used to say that we (pastors) should be in the business of working ourselves out of a job. What she meant is that we are called to lead by empowering others, through equipping the saints. Cooper House is not “my” ministry. We are the body of Christ together. It is my job to love, teach, challenge and nurture this community. And it is also everyone’s job.
We affirm the priesthood of all believers only as much as we trust those we serve to lead as well. I often find it much more convenient to over function and to do the planning and programming myself. This is not, however, honoring my call to serve a community of ministers.
Our churches and faith communities are not “ours,” they are God’s. The same is true of our children. In baptism, we profess that they belong to God.
There will be times when I can’t be there for Sam. There will be other times when I can’t be there for my students. There will be no times when God is not there.
Ginny Taylor-Troutman is the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Virginia Tech where she finds great joy journeying with college students. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia in a tiny town called Dublin with her husband, Andrew (who is also a Presbyterian pastor), infant son, Samuel, and dog, Nikki Giovanni Bob Dylan. Ginny loves hiking, music, a good cup of coffee, festivals, and just about anything she can do outside with her family and friends.