Dear Holy Spirit,
I know you have a lot going on with the Easter season just starting (Pentecost is just down the road!), but I was hoping we could have a little heart-to-heart, me and you, future-candidate-for-pastor-in-the-Church with the Mover-Shaker-Advocate-of-said-Church. I mean, presumably, you will be involved in my upcoming first-call process, and it’s about this that I would like a word.
Dear Holy Spirit, I’m scared of my first call. I keep hearing stories about the parishes in this Body of Christ that have me seriously concerned about why the heck you called me to be a pastor in the first place. The parishes that have meltdowns over the issue of homosexuality. The parishes that still won’t welcome women preachers. The parishes where you can’t talk about the beautiful aspects of Islam to the youth without sending their parents into a tizzy. The parishes that have secret letter-writing campaigns to undermine or oust their pastors.
Holy Spirit, as you well know, I’m called to the ELCA, a church that is shrinking, a church with a lot of anxiety over numbers (people and finances), and by all accounts, I should be worried about all that. But I’m not. I’m not worried about getting called to a dying church. But I’m really worried about getting called to a dying church where there are no signs of the resurrection.
So, Wisdom, here’s the deal: let’s have a Matthew 7:7 moment and get it all out there. Here’s where my hopes and dreams meet your tokens of the resurrection. Let’s make this happen. Sophia, send me to a first call where:
- The congregation takes this whole “priesthood of all believers” thing to heart. Dear Holy Spirit, please do not let my arrival at my parish be the occasion for everyone who’s contributing to the life of the church to say, “Finally, the pastor’s here! Time to take a step back!”
- A congregation that does not know these phrases in any iteration:
“It must be nice to only work on Sundays.”
“That’s a good idea, but let’s do it the way we’ve always done it.”
“We don’t really talk about that in this church.”
“So…you’re a woman pastor, huh?”
- A congregation who preaches on real issues. Let’s talk about money! (Jesus did!) Let’s talk about issues that affect women! (Jesus did!) Let’s talk about green ministry! Let’s talk about the marginalization of the poor! Let’s talk about our complicity in systemic sin! Let my first call be a place that sees faith as a place of real engagement with the world instead of a panacea for all the problems we pretend not to have.
- A congregation who understands the phrase “constructive criticism.” Holy Spirit, send me to a place where the members of my parish care deeply enough about our ministry to be honest with me about what they feel I could do better, and just as honest about what I am doing well. May none of their feedback be oriented towards my appearance as a woman who does ministry. May it all be for the building up of our mutual ministry. And give me a heart to receive their words with humility and grace.
- A congregation who defends the time I set aside for family and self-care. Holy Spirit, please send me to a parish that not only appreciates that I work more than Sundays, but that I will in truth probably end up working 55 hours or more on an average week. Send me to a place that will not make me feel guilty for taking time for myself or for my family. A place that would actively engage me on how to fulfill continuing ed requirements and good self-care…Paraclete, send me there!
- A congregation who sees themselves as blessed. Send me to a place that sees that their call to be church comes not from the demand of tradition, but from God. Send me to a place that sees themselves, not as strapped for time/money/volunteers/members, but as living into an abundance provided by a loving God who creates and blesses. Send me to a place that embraces their mission to proclaim the gospel, not to keep it to themselves. Send me to a church that forgives the mistakes of humanity and rejoices in repentance and reconciliation . Send me to a place that doesn’t see me not as a threat to the way things are, but that graces my mistakes and rejoices in my gifts, and are eager to share theirs.
Holy Spirit, I know you have plenty to be getting on with. But I think this is a worthy prayer: send our first-call candidates to churches where wellsprings of joy in ministry are flowing strong. I am not the only one who is troubled about the future, or struggling with difficult stories (and realities) of first calls, and second calls, and umpteen calls. Spirit, bless this church. Send us love, send us power, send us grace. Amen.