Saturday, June 18, 2011

untangling the knots

Next week will mark the sixteenth anniversary of my ordination as priest. That's not a long time, but it's a significant length of time to have walked that path. As I stand at the present fork in the road of my life I haven't really said much about why I choosing the prong of that fork that doesn't have anything to do with priestly ministry. The short answer is that it hasn't worked out. The long answer is considerably more complex and nuanced.

Here's a window into that complexity that might help understand where I am.

It's not uncommon to hear that members of any church think that pastors or preachers don't do anything between Sundays. I'm not going to waste my time dignifying that myopic cluelessness, but it does share similar qualities with a persistent experience of mine as a parish priest. When parishioners express their appreciation for me as a priest that appreciation has fallen into a singular category: preaching. Don't get me wrong, to be praised in the area of preaching is not a small thing. I suspect there are any number of clergy out there who are starved for praise in that department. But here's the rub. It's essentially the ONLY area of my ministry that has received appreciation.

Why is this an issue? For reasons that escape me it is the only one that members of congregations I have served seem to notice. Let's do the math. Fifteen minutes out of a sixty-hour week (the average norm for clergy) is .625%.  Does it make sense that it frustrates me that 99.375% of my effort goes under-acknowledged and unappreciated?

My coach helped me understand this dynamic in this way: in parish work my strengths and abilities were focused around communicating opportunity, illuminating possibilities, sharing transforming realities, honoring diversity, assuring the love and available presence of God in times of distress, listening, expressing gratitude for the efforts of volunteers, encouraging doubters, speaking truth, mediating grace, loving when I didn't like, valuing the smallest contribution, telling stories of hope, and more. The collective behavior of the people I served suggested that they paid attention to what was available to them and chose not to participate in the kingdom being proclaimed.

In visual terms I was about growth (picture vertical, reaching upward), the community was about business as usual (picture a flat, horizontal line). See that intersection? No wonder there was no affirmation, appreciation or recognition. No wonder I felt empty and starved. No wonder it's time to use what God has given me in a place where music can be made.

Does this mean that the world of parish ministry is empty and void of fulfillment? No. What it means is that my experience of serving in it has left me depleted.

For the record: there are individuals from  my congregations who have told me about transformation resulting from sermons, or bible studies, or one-on-one moments. I do have letters from parishioners who thanked me for my pastoral care, for being authentic and vulnerable, for helping them believe and hold on to hope when the world around them suggested otherwise. I have been chosen to lead retreats because it was evident that there was light in my soul, and because it was equally evident that I was eager to share that light. It has not all been a disappointment, and it does matter that 1% of my time could touch so many hearts and lives and make a difference in them (including members of the Bush family!).

Coming to understand that it is best, and right for me to take another path right now does not mean I have answers, only clarity where there was once a great deal of fog. It is my prayer that revelation will continue to unfold, that way will open, and that the moment of dancing in the light is not too far in the future.


The Bug said...

Anne - you've just described all the churches I've ever been a part of :) In every congregation there have been a few people who "bought into" the minister's vision - the rest were just there for the ride. Including my own self a lot of times.

It's good that you're figuring out what you need - that will help a LOT in determining what to do with your talents.

Jules said...

Wishing you the best in your journey down the "road not taken" and hope you find the fulfillment you thirst for. Keeping you in my thoughts and heart.

Jayne said...

Wow... that is a TON of introspective work there my friend. In my experience of church, there is not one person that can be ALL to everyone. Giving people tools is completely different from them actually taking those tools and affecting change. People DO like the routine, even if it means staying in their little ruts. It's really such a blessing that you have the opportunity to really explore how to best use the gifts you've been given. I am so happy for you to have this new clarity. XOXO

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