Outlook associate editor Jana Blazek wrote this blog post this week on the second day of a three-day new pastors retreat convened by the Synod of Lincoln Trails at Stronghold Camp and Conference Center in Oregon, Illinois.
Tomorrow, my colleagues in ministry are going to take a photo that shows all 15 of us mugging for the camera and giving the thumbs up sign. Tomorrow, this group of new(ish) pastors is going to take a group photo – a photo that will represent the hope we have for the Presbyterian Church. It’s a hope we’ve found together over the last three years in community, in mentoring, in learning, in relationships.
Three years ago, the Synod of Lincoln Trails invited us to be a part of a new pastors group, meeting twice a year to learn and to grow in ministry together. There are solo pastors, associate pastors, chaplains, and even an Outlook associate editor. The synod has financed our time together and provided three amazing, seasoned mentors to share this journey with us. We’re the 23rd new pastors group to be the recipient of this gift.
Gathering for a retreat, we share where we’re growing, where we need to grow and where we wish God would stop pushing us to grow. We’ve talked about how to know when God is calling you out of your current call; what to do when you need new tires and a congregation member offers to give you a great deal on them; and how to respond with grace when you hear, “Oh, so you’re a lady preacher?”
Almost all of us have just celebrated the third anniversary of our ordination. These past few years have been transformative as we live into our callings, seeking to be faithful to a church that stands at the crossroads of a rich Reformed tradition and the exciting (and terrifying) unknowns of what’s ahead for mainline churches.
My church is merging and my role will soon be eliminated.
The congregation seems terrified that I’ll quit when I start a family.
I’ve had to call 911 three times for fights in the church parking lot.
The pastor group in my community kicked me out because they didn’t want Presbyterians to be involved.
I have a new baby and the church’s demands just keep growing.
I’m only half-time; but it’s never half-time.
We pray together over these concerns and more. Three years ago, we didn’t know each other and none of us could have imagined what deep friendships and support would develop.
We’ve brainstormed together how to do church better, more faithfully. We’ve shared creative liturgy and children’s programming. We’ve wept together over each other’s losses and pains. But, more often, we’ve laughed until we’ve cried. Staying up into the early morning hours discussing the denomination, the movement of the Spirit, where Cliff will get his first tattoo.
I’m organizing a drop-in shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth.
We’re getting ready to start the neighborhood’s first food pantry.
I have 90 youth going on a mission trip.
I am so pumped up about preaching.
We’re starting an experimental arts collaborative.
There is exciting stuff going here. A small group of pastors sharing where we are on fire for ministry and what we can’t wait to try out in our contexts to see what God will bless or mold into something new.
There’s a lot of discerning going on, too. What’s next for my ministry? What’s next in my calling?
This morning, we discerned together what distinguishes actions that are pastoral and those that are prophetic.
One pastor shared that he needed courage to say the prophetic things that he feels called to share with the congregation he serves. Alex jokingly asked if we would all show up to sit in the front pew and exude encouragement the next time he felt called to preach a challenging Scripture.
We laughed, but then Lisa said, “I keep a photo of this group in the pulpit. It’s tucked in a corner where only I can see it.” These fellows in ministry are there, with her, in the pulpit as she proclaims the Word, giving encouragement and offering communal ties that bind across the miles.
So tomorrow, we’re going to take a new photo where we’re all giving each other the thumbs up. Some of us may tape it in the pulpit, others in our offices and on our desks – a visible reminder that the body of Christ goes with us when times are tough, goes with us when we feel alone in ministry, and stays with us to proclaim the hope for the future of the church. And isn’t that the kind of reminder we all need to know that the PC(USA) is still alive and God is still doing a new thing through new leaders?
by Jana Blazek, Outlook associate editor