Many of us have seen the meme which humorously juxtaposes images of the pastor with common misperceptions: What people think I do; What my friends think I do; What people in my parish think I do; What other clergy think I do; What I think I do; What I actually do! For most seminarians and clergy in parishes, there is a sad truth to the depictions of a person herding sheep, an exalted preacher, on one’s knees in constant prayer, out playing golf, thinking we have slain parishioners in the spirit OR the reality of covering all the bases from administration, sermon preparation, shaping the liturgy for a particular gathering, engaging visits, setting up for a meeting, being always available, Sunday morning, reconciling divergent opinions on the mundane and the significant, or dealing pastorally with difficult personalities. Whew!
We enter seminary and prepare for ministry in response to a deep-seated calling and for the discernment of our gifts. In one of his letters, St. Paul reminds those considering ministry that God’s Vision requires disciples with a variety of gifts (i.e. teacher, administrator, preacher, prophet). Attending a theological college intensifies the discernment process as together students and faculty seek to draw out the skills, talents, and gifts for ministry that can fulfill a calling to service in the church. Theological study is an important foundation and tool for guiding discipleship for one’s self and the people in the care of the minister, but it must inform the “calling” and leadership in the parish. While your friends may think you sit and read the Bible all day or will pass your time on the golf course as “reverends,” the reality of engaging God’s Vision for humankind and this earthly home calls you to implement the redeeming messages of the Bible: love, mercy, and justice. The desire to discern a calling to ministry and the enrolment in a theological college to focus on it and learn more about God’s Vision, i.e. in academic theological study, becomes the translation of calling into real-life ministry. Likely it will not be as perceived in humourous memes, but at the completing of studies, an in-ministry year, a learning circle for admission, or a reading and tutorial program the goal of the College is for profounder recognition of the Spirit’s guidance in your life as a disciple.
I had many surprises when I began ordained ministry in a parish setting. There were issues with practices that tended to reflect inappropriate theology and these called upon pastoral diplomacy and reconciliation between opposing opinions. Introducing new understandings of being disciples gathered in a particular place, along with forward looking mission, required patience (not easy for a newly ordained pastor out to save the world). There were tasks that I had not planned on doing as a pastor (e.g. setting up for meetings, locking up, watering poinsettias and Easter lilies during the week, etc.). I also quickly realised that plans for an afternoon of sermon preparation were usually derailed by a pastoral emergency (after a while I planned sermon time for late evening), and a host of community obligations were expected of me. Certainly what society might think I was doing or friends might imagine, or what I had envisioned were given a reality check. Yet, this calling engaged me in a deep reflection of gifts to offer the ministry, areas to empower lay leaders, and the value of my theological education for guiding my decisions.
While the old meme may very well be true in its humour, our purpose together at the College is to discern and celebrate our abilities for ministry as we engage as agents of God’s Vision. Doing it wisely and with solid theological reflection. There will be different ways and means for each of us, but our discipleship unites us and the call of the Holy Spirit empowers us.
This message was written by Pastor Eric Dyck for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.