This morning as I walked down the hallway at church, I saw a familiar face -- the young woman who was our Youth Director for a couple of years is now in seminary in Atlanta but was back for a visit. "Wow!" I said. "Hi! How IS it?"
"It's WONDERFUL" she responded. "When are you coming?"
Now. I am supposed to see that as a significant question, or a polite conversational response?
That's the problem when you start wondering whether you should be in ministry. You begin to see meaning where it might not be. Or might.
I thought my decisions about next year were starting to firm up. Teach high school, teach college, teach in a nontraditional educational setting. Something -- one of those. I thought seminary was a definite "nope." A quarter of the way through the Ignatian Exercises, and my call to teaching is so clear to me. Of course, there are another three-quarters to go. But the flip side of the coin would seem to be my non-existent call to certain other aspects of ministry.
A Presbyterian pastor is called to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. I'm fine with the Word part. I've been reading words since I was three, and anyone who's been a lawyer and a teacher of people ages three to eighty-three is comfortable with words in whatever form they can be shaped. People liked my first sermon last summer. People like my occcasional presentations for our Adult Ed program. I get plenty of positive feedback in the Word department.
I'm also probably okay with the pastoral part of pastoring. I'm not so much afraid of death, pain, hospitals, the justice system, jails, lawyers, police officers, the offices of people who are accustomed to intimidating other people, and all those other places and situations where people need care. Unfortunately I have needed care in not a few of them myself. Or maybe fortunately. Sometimes I think maybe there is a significant reason I have ended up in the most godawful situations. (Other times I think the reason is more along the lines that some of us just have more bizarre lives than others: "Too bad, you're it!")
But then there's the Sacramental part. And here's the thing. The sacraments of the church do not particularly move me. Is that something I dare to admit? A deal-breaker? I've been thinking "yes" to both. In the Protestant church we have only two sacraments: baptism and communion. And I have ADD; I'm sure of it. I can barely sit still through a communion service. At least in a baptism there is usually an adorable infant who gets marched down the aisle, gurgling and cooing (or screaming) in a long white gown, after a VERY SHORT ceremony. Communion is INTERMINABLE.
Well, I will have to talk this over with my guide through the Exercises. As a Catholic priest, he celebrates Mass everyday and communion is, of course, the whole point of the Mass. So far he has just nodded his head in understanding when I've mentioned that the sacraments are mostly more of a Catholic thing.
This is not where I had planned to go with this entry. Ah, writing is a wonderful thing. You start with a plan and you end up mulling over something else.
(Which reminds me. Sometimes I think that what I am really supposed to do is just write about all this. About what it's like to have God in your life when you are basically an extremely ordinary liberal and highly skeptical scripture-and-history geek known to have used rather crude language in religious settings. Not, in other words, Ms. Right-Wing Christian or Ms. Holy Mother.)
There is one other thing I keep wondering about with respect to discerning a call to ministry. I have some land in southern Ohio, a wedding gift from my grandfather. If I were to go to seminary, I would have to sell that land, which has been in my family for 150 years, to help finance the cost. Last summer I told a dear friend of mine that I was thinking about seminary, in a conversation in which issues of land and money never came up. That friend is a woman my father's age, a nun who was once one of my agnostic Methodist grandfather's closet friends. Her eyes just danced when she exclaimed with relish, "Seminary! Imagine how your grandfather would respond to THAT!"
I've thought about that conversation a lot in the past several months. Only God is capable of providing for irony so extensive and so humorous -- a grandfather who dismissed preachers as "good for marrying and burying and that's about it" gives his granddaughter land as a wedding present in the hope that she will build a home and raise a family nearby, and thereby unwittingly provides the resource that might enable her to become a minister?
There. See what I mean about what happens to a perfectly good mind once God gets hold of it?