When I was a young girl, I absolutely loved playing with my Barbie dolls.
I loved dressing them and playing out different scenes and stories. I had this amazing Barbie house/office that was two-sided: blue office on one side complete with an amazing desktop computer, and a pink house on the other side with a comfy bed and tiny accessories. To top it off, it folded up and held all its pieces so it was super easy to take to Grammy’s house. To my 6-year-old self, this was amazing. Barbie had it all, even a car.
As I grew up, Barbie took on a lot of vocations and interests. My doll worked in an office, but eventually she became a vet, an astronaut, a world traveler, a parent. She rode horses, had roller blades, kept up with technology, she even wore pants. She lived in different places all over the world. The last Barbie I bought was in the late 1990s — a Generation Girl Barbie who was a filmmaker complete with video camera and accessories. I still have her in her box. Before I did this pastor thing, I worked briefly in film and video production.
As a child, I did not understand the challenges of Barbie’s impossible proportions, or how I was purposely being surrounded by pink and glitter, or how the culture was trying to shape me to fit into the “girl” mold (it didn’t work!). I can see now some of the problematic aspects of Barbie, but as I was growing up, Barbie had an outfit for any occasion and she could rise to the sudden call to go to space, perform surgery or film some b-roll.
As a grown woman, I wonder about this idea of having it all: home life and work life. If I am honest, at least once a week (if not once a day) it is a struggle to find the appropriate ebb and flow between motherhood, marriage and ministry. Barbie sure did make that look easier than it is! And as pastors are known to joke — they didn’t teach me that in seminary! I went to seminary and I left with my new roll, Pastor Becca. I’d already been Parent Becca and Spouse Becca for a while.
In the life of a pastor we expect there are certain tasks we will do: preaching, pastoral care, some administrative work, some teaching. Seminary prepared me well enough for these typical tasks but then today happened.
I was sitting in my office, the building buzzing with an unusually large amount of activity, when it happened. The fire alarm went off. It is loud and disorienting as institutional alarms tend to be. I grabbed my keys and made sure everyone left the building, even though I knew the source of the alarm was already fixed. I grabbed the very official-looking paper hanging over the desk in the main office labeled “Fire Alarm.” I handed it off to some volunteers without a second thought. They dutifully ran through the steps of the protocol, which included silencing the alarm. I called the fire department to let them know we were OK and they didn’t need to come… right as they rolled into the parking lot.
Y’all, I got schooled! (It was in a very grace-filled way, for which I am profoundly grateful.) Our fire alarm has rules such as: We are not supposed to silence it — ever. Whoops! That very official-looking list of instructions, which has been pinned up in the office for only God knows how long, was very wrong. Instead of writing my sermon as I had planned, I ended up having a mini lesson on the fire alarm and, with the help of the professionals, I was able to get all of our signage up to date. Fire safety seems appropriate learning material when I am supposed to be writing a sermon about the fiery Holy Spirit!
As things settled down and we all went back to doing what we were there to do, I started thinking about all the weird things I have learned as a pastor.
Storm Spotter Becca: When I served in the Midwest, I went to storm spotting class with the National Weather Service so I could lead well in all sorts of weather. I learned about clouds (more than I learned in third grade), about the sirens and what to do if I was driving in the car. This informed me so we could have a safety plan at the church. And when the tornado sirens went off while I was preaching, I knew what to do.
CRR/FIRST AID/AED Certified Becca: Someone had to know how to use the new AED, so I learned along with my leaders.
Active Shooter Response Becca: I have sat with my leadership and a police officer to talk about building safety and some practical ways to respond should we face the unthinkable.
Lock Down/Shelter in Place Becca: The church has a preschool, which means we have these fire drills and protocols. I must be informed and have a good grasp so that should we need to use one of these protocols, I know how to respond.
Plumbing Becca: I have learned so much about plumbing. (I’ll spare you the details.)
Handyperson Becca: I fixed a door lock yesterday!
Copy Repair Becca: Someone has to be able to unjam the machine.
And today I added: Fire Safety Becca.
Watch out Barbie, I am coming for you! I, too, now have the skills and knowledge to respond in many unexpected or emergency situations that pop up.
If you asked me five years ago, as I was graduating seminary, what ministry entailed, I am positive I would have talked about challenging times. I never anticipated having to learn fire rules, how to work an AED or what to do if the tornado sirens blare mid-sermon. Yet here I am, learning as I go, often asking for grace and finding ways to learn.
I promise you that I did not learn any of this in seminary. I did learn some pretty spectacular critical thinking and problem-solving skills, for which I am grateful. My professors knew they couldn’t possibly prepare us for all the things we would encounter in the church. I can’t imagine how many more “outfits” I will gain as I continue to serve the church. My wardrobe is not very pink. My car isn’t flashy. I do not have impossible body proportions, or a neat office that unfolds and reverses into my home. Yet somehow, I feel as though Barbie’s many professions and ever-changing life circumstances may have helped prepare me to be ready for anything.
Perhaps I should check Amazon for a spacesuit.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.