I graduated from seminary a few weekends ago.
It was an amazing day: a fitting culmination of countless written words, late nights, Hebrew conjugations, hard questions, community transitions, afternoon meetings and shared meals. (Thank God for those shared meals.) My family was there, as were friends from my home church, from college, and – of course – from seminary. After a moving commencement service where we were exhorted by Brian Blount, Union Presbyterian Seminary’s president, to get up and follow God’s call, us newly minted graduates spilled out into the warm (okay, hot) Virginia sunshine. We took pictures and exchanged hugs and farewells and words of thanks with the professors and staff and classmates who had made it all possible.
It was an amazing day.
And yet, four years and two degrees later, something is still missing. A bit of an Eeyore-like cloud hovers around the outermost edge of this moment of accomplishment and celebration — because I am moving ahead without knowing what’s next.
Over the past few years, as my consciousness around ordained ministry and calls developed, I’ve known just a few people who have left a call without knowing where they were going. Though I have not always known the circumstances of this leaving, I’ve often felt astounded by the apparent great act of faith this involves. These people have felt so sure that God was tugging them elsewhere that they moved ahead — even before discerning where God was tugging them to, or, perhaps much more practically, before obtaining some sort of financial stability. They moved ahead without knowing what was next. They trusted that the God who called them into ministry would call them into the next thing — even if it meant a period of unemployment or underemployment or wandering in the wilderness.
To be clear, I do not aim to make a claim about the faithfulness of those who have never left a call for the unknown. But now that I find myself in the position of moving ahead without knowing what’s next, I don’t feel particularly faithful or trusting or brave. This does not feel like an act of great faith. This feels like something I had no choice but to go along with. This feels like fear.
This wilderness wandering I’m experiencing as I seek my first call has been extraordinarily difficult. I have shed more tears than I care to admit while asking what on earth God is doing and sensing that God hasn’t provided a call when I had hoped God would. I’ve interacted and interviewed with a number of churches that have resulted in a door being shut — sometimes gracefully, and other times seemingly right in my face. I’ve done everything I could to prevent moving ahead without knowing what’s next. And yet, here I am.
Here I am, with enormous privilege that will allow me to survive this wilderness period — at least for the time being. I don’t have seminary debt and my parents have welcomed me back into their home. This allows me to hold out a bit longer before I have to consider pursuing a different type of call or different work in order to make a living. This may appear to be faithfulness. But it doesn’t feel like it.
If nothing else, this chapter in my life has pushed me to appreciate the ending, this closing of a wonderful chapter in my life, apart from any new beginning. This ending stands alone. Finishing seminary is not enhanced by the prompt promise of a new call. It is not rushed along by the need to find a new place to live and prepare for an examination on the floor of presbytery. It is its own event — as terrifying and anxiety-ridden as it is.
So, I do the only things I know how to do. I celebrated the major accomplishment of completing my seminary education. I continue to distribute my PIF and interview with churches. And I am leaning into the promise of our God who is just as active in the world today as on the first day, who calls me into the unknown and who is making a way. I do not rest easily on this promise, which is certainly why this does not feel like a great act of faithfulness. I still experience much fear. My prayers include far more questions and complaints than praise and thanksgiving. But I am here, wrestling with this call process until it blesses me, holding fast onto the promise that the God who claimed me in baptism claims me still.
May it be so, for me and for all those who move ahead without knowing what’s next.
LINDA KURTZ is the communications specialist for NEXT Church and a recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary. She is also a ruling elder and candidate for ordination from National Capital Presbytery. Now that she’s finished seminary, Linda enjoys being outside and taking photos of anything but people.
Editor’s note: Since she wrote this post, Linda has been called as the associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.