Friends, I have to tell you the shocking truth.
I didn’t always want the Graduate Preaching Fellowship.
I applied because Plan A and Plan B were not working out. There were days over the past year (note the lack of blogs in February and June?!) when I wasn’t sure that the GPF adventure was working particularly well, either. In the US, full-time work is how we define our purpose, and a year of travel/guest preaching/ volunteering wasn’t always easy to explain to people.
I like to be in charge of my life, and the GPF was a year of admitting I wasn’t in charge. I couldn’t control my call process, and I couldn’t control whether or not I received the fellowship. I couldn’t control the world politics which created angst in the immigration and refugee system, and I couldn’t control the church’s response to it. I was on a roller coaster ride, and I had a choice to trust God and enjoy the scenery or to close my eyes and wait for it to end.
Yesterday’s Gospel reading in many churches (including mine) was from Matthew 20. In this story, workers are literally just standing around waiting for someone to hire them. Some people are hired early and work all day, others are hired late and work just one hour, but the generous employer pays them all the same.
North Americans really dislike that parable.
But, it hit me in church that my year of waiting for ordination was like that parable. North Americans feel that if we’re not employed, it’s our own personal fault somehow. But, the ELCA call process required me to just wait for someone else to reach out and choose me, even though it basically didn’t happen. I asked for multiple opportunities near my home in Ann Arbor and was denied each of them. I watched friends who began seminary after me get ordained and ‘chosen’ before me.
Whenever I began to doubt my purpose, though, God sent me a generous opportunity. Like, when I got to preach on vocation and calling at a friend’s church in February:
The year-long Graduate Preaching Fellowship was a daily test of how much I believed that children’s sermon. Was I still a pastor, even if I wasn’t ordained? Even if I didn’t have a ‘real’ church? Was I living my vocation, even if I didn’t get paid for it?
What about when I spent Ash Wednesday in a coffee shop?
Or, when I preached in Florida, and met one of the pastors who voted for Women’s Ordination a decade before I was even born?
When I met with a local state representative who is working to make our community safe for Immigrants and refugees:
What about the time I preached in New Orleans at a bilingual Spanish-English service, and two Nigerian missionaries stopped by unexpectedly? They were crying because that day was the first time they had heard an Anglo/White person speak out in favor of welcoming refugees and immigrants.
It should have been easy to live my vocation, to follow God’s purpose during the year of Graduate Preaching Fellowship. I got to preach over 30 times, to hundreds of people. I baptized babies and marched for freedom and wrote blogs and prayed on three continents.
But it is in the times when we are most focused on God’s purpose that Satan works hardest for us to believe the lies. Some days, I believed the lie that I was never meant to be a pastor, and I would never be ordained. Some days, I believed the lie that I didn’t deserve the Fellowship, and my efforts were a waste of the donors’ money. Some days, I believed the lie that all of our efforts were wasted, because powerful people would continue to abuse immigrants and refugees.
Throughout it all, God reminded me that the Fellowship was a gift – a gift which would bless me more than I could ever imagine.
And I am so grateful for that merciful gift.
A New Beginning
Thankfully, God does not let the lies win in the end. God worked through Pastor Kristin in the Greater Milwaukee Synod, and I received a unique call to lead two churches during a time of transition and new beginnings for them. I was ordained on July 16 in Michigan, and I began my call September 1 in Wisconsin. (I’ll be officially installed Oct 1). The ordination was a gift – an opportunity to celebrate with people who have supported me on my journey and who wished to send me off to our next adventure with much prayer and encouragement.
This is my favorite Ordination Picture. It includes all of my Zion family, really enjoying our time together, like we always did when we worked together. We’re scattered, now, each serving at a different location, but we’re still serving as God has called us to do.
The ordination included so many fun parts, but one of them was this video of my path:
So, now, I’m not planning any more travel around the world. The Fellowship is officially over, and I am trying to transition into life as a ‘normal’ pastor in Wisconsin.
But, after a year of finding my purpose in many unusual locations, I have discovered that pastor-ing is never normal. Some days I do preach from a pulpit in robes. But other days, I walk at the zoo to support one of our smallest members.
No matter what we do next, no matter where God calls me, I pray that I am ready to face the next adventure in faith. Even if that means admitting I’m not in control.
Thank you for your support, friends. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your work to support refugees and immigrants in your own communities. Blessings on your next adventure, wherever God takes you – go in faith.