Last week I get on Facebook and tell everybody that I’m sorry for being MIA; seminary got a hold of me and won’t let go. I say that I’ll be over here talking about transformation and growth and change and monarch butterflies. Then, I sit and wonder what exactly I might have to say about transformation. We can all search for trite transformation cliches on Pinterest, so I’ll let you do that in your free time – that’s not why I’m here. I’m in the midst of a serious transformation; I know that for sure. But, I’ve recently learned that before I can hug up on all that good change going on, surely I have to recognize it for what it is.
Last Monday: I get a text message from a dear friend who happens to be a UCC pastor and my previous pastor for that matter. The message says, “There is a church in Shamokin (that’s a real place, ya’ll – go ahead, you can say it like Jim Carrey in The Mask, we all do) who needs someone to preach every now and then. Are you interested and may I give them your info?” Now, I look at this text and I look at who sent it and I think, “Whaaaaat??” Preach? She sent this to the wrong person. But before I can do anything else it sinks in.
She sent this message to exactly the right person. I’m pursuing a Master of Divinity at a theological seminary. I try to let this sink in daily. I took a huge risk, a big leap of faith, even applying at the school, because on paper I just don’t look qualified for acceptance into graduate school. But here I am. And guess what – no it’s not chicken butt – I’m still having a hard time identifying as a preacher. Preachers are something else.
In all my years with the UCC, I’m still hurting from the fire and brimstone preaching of my childhood. The raving evangelists who were certain we were all about to burn in hell for any given reason still stand in my memory and still scare the shit out of me, just like they scared me away from God when I was little. Those people were the only preachers I knew growing up. I’m realizing that I never thought of my UCC ministers as preachers, even though of course they are.
I say to my friend that I’m preparing to be a minister but that the word preacher makes me a little uncomfortable. She says, “Rose, you already are a minister and a preacher. You’ve been preaching to me for six years!” I know she’s right, so I have to reflect on this whirlwind of changes that have taken place in the last three months.
I let all the thoughts and feelings swirl around. When I envision my future in ministry I think of advocating for social justice and cutting the mass incarceration rates in our country and the dismantling of the US prison system. I think of counseling people on their relationships and faith issues and helping them explore ways to be in relationship with a loving breathing God. I think of pastoral care and preparing and offering the Eucharist. I think of growth and bringing people back into the church. I even think of my identity as a theologian and the theologies that most appeal to my ministry. And, mostly, I think of having conversations with the congregation.
Then I think to myself, “There’s a lot of preaching that goes on in churches on Sunday mornings, Rose. You might as well get good and comfy with that term!” There’s trauma mixed into my visual association of preachers with certain crazy-shouting-hell and damnation-slapping the podium-stomping around-acting a fool-individuals. I’m trying not to judge those people, but I’m saying they freak me right out. I meditate on the word preacher and try to match it up to the gentle Jesus and the clergy people I have come to love and appreciate.
I tell my pastor friend that I would absolutely love to help out at this church, and to please give them my name and number. I talk to an elder in the church and she asks me to preach every Sunday from October through December. When I preach to the attendants in our chapel at work I don’t wear anything special, but I decide that I should really go the distance and fully embrace this transformation from just Rose to Rose the clergywoman (I know – I believe in gender diversity ya’ll, and I’m so comfy identifying as a woman, not just a person, so that’s what I do) and wear a robe.
A few months ago, one of our previous superintendents, who was a UCC minister, passed away. Being a friend of the family and a seminarian, I was given one of his robes. His initials are embroidered under the tag in the back. The robe has been hanging in my closet at work until today when I try it on for the first time. I rub my finger across his initials and think of all the amazing work he did for our organization. And I am reminded of the first time, as an adult, that I felt called to the pulpit; and how it all ties into my own service in this historical and life changing organization.
I slide my arms into the robe and pull it across my chest. It sweeps against my ankles and drapes just right across my shoulders. I feel such a mix of emotions. I feel like a fraud. I feel unqualified. I feel humbled and small. I wonder, is this really my life?
I’m a planner and I’m outcomes oriented. Sometimes, I can prepare for an upcoming change and anticipate certain outcomes. Sometimes, I think I know what I’m getting myself into. I’ve totally got this covered, I think. Then, a friend sends a text asking me to preach the word of God to a thirsty congregation in need of spiritual leadership. And she thinks I can do this. I pull this calling tight into my core and stare into the mirror at myself in the billowing black robe. I might not recognize the person looking back me, but God surely does.
Agere Contra, friends