Start date: August 26, 2019
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
The past three weeks (only three?) have been a whirlwind. On a Friday in late August, with my industrious and reassuring mother in tow, I drove from Northern Virginia down to Richmond, former home to me and then-home to most of my belongings. The next day, those belongings were loaded onto a moving truck, and then Mom and I got on I-64 and drove. And drove. For hours. Through beautiful mountains and West Virginia and into Kentucky. My new home.
One is greeted on I-64 in Kentucky by a humongous oil refinery. It is the very first thing you see. How will I later interpret this odd detail as the start of a new home and new call?
I realize a parent really is never done being a parent as my mom labors for 14-hour days with me unpacking said items (yes, they arrived the next day!), cleaning, hanging things on the wall and generally getting me settled in. God bless parents (and specifically my mom).
On my first day at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, where I am now associate pastor, we have a short ritual after each worship service during which a new church sign is hung bearing my name. I know we are not to worship idols, and I try not to look at that sign every time I’m out front, but how good it is to be welcomed and known in this way. My tenure here has begun! It’s in stone! (Well, metal, I think.) How can I help ensure every human who walks through these doors for the first time feels so known and loved?
So far, I haven’t spent a single entire day at my desk, and I realize that this makes me exhausted but so happy. No day has been the same. Sure, there are a lot of meetings with my colleagues – I have so much to learn! – but I also immediately block off a few hours a week to spend with people in my congregation and the wider community to begin building relationships and continue to learn about this place. These one-on-one meetings are a gift. I treasure the stories, holding onto the blessing they are.
On my first Sunday leading liturgy, my primary compliment is that people can hear me. (This, interestingly, was always the primary compliment I received when I was interning at a church in Richmond.) Perhaps God does not want it lost on me that it is a gift to be able to hear God’s word. Also that Sunday, a woman in the new congregation reassures me that I belong there, that I’ve been called by God, and despite the fact that I am a young woman I need to take up space and not rush when I am speaking. She is right. I am grateful. I hope I always remember this — not only her words, but the way she shared them as we walked to the church picnic together.
Elsewhere in Lexington, I have been asked by nearly every store clerk and service provider I’ve encountered (don’t ask how many times repairmen – yes, only men – have been in my house these past three weeks) if I am a student. I know one day I will appreciate being mistaken for being 8-12 years younger than I actually am. Right now, though, this feeds a nascent sense of imposter’s syndrome budding within me. I deprive it of food, water and sun every chance I get so it won’t grow. I am called to this. But will I be taken seriously if I come across as 22?
My allergies have been going haywire since I moved. New state and all. I can’t help but think that there must be a lot of horse hair floating in the air, this being the land of thoroughbred farms. I purposely did not tell anyone on my wonderful APNC that I am, in fact, allergic to said horses until after we finalized terms of call. I do think this shortcoming of my immune system is forgiven by my congregation, but I suspect a few are holding out until they get me to a horse track come October. (No, I did not know before last week that horse racing here is limited to the months of October and April. Fascinating.)
I have had more opportunities to break bread with new people in the past three weeks than I have in the past three years. It is a gift, and each time I go to someone’s home, I am humbled by the honor it is to be their pastor. I hope this feeling never gets normal, never becomes old. I have longed for a congregation to love ever since I left the nest of the church that raised me, and now we’ve found each other. It wasn’t easy – in fact, finding my first call was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but now I am here. God is good.
LINDA KURTZ is associate pastor for Christian formation at First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, and a recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Now that she’s finished seminary, Linda enjoys being outside, reading for fun, and taking photos of anything but people.