“I just want to be a ‘normal’ person” was my response when people that I knew and respected asked me if I ever thought about going into the ministry.
I knew plenty of people who were pastors but I never thought that I was worthy enough for that journey nor did I think I could handle being good enough as one of those “perfect” Christians.
But I can also understand why they made such suggestions. You see, at the time I was over churched. I was a leader in my church youth group, attended worship every Sunday and went to church camp every summer. During the summers throughout college I worked at church camps and my senior year I was employed as a youth director at a nearby church. I was fascinated by the sense of community that could develop in a short time at camp and became a small group junkie of sorts.
But what I really wanted to do was to travel the world and learn about other cultures. My degree was in Political Science and Spanish and I was scheduled after graduation to go into the Peace Corps. Five weeks before heading to Guatemala as a community organizer, the Peace Corps called and asked why out of the 10 references that I gave them that 8 were connected to the church. They said, “Have you ever thought about being a missionary?”
It was at that point that I decided to listen to the wisdom from those around me. I turned down the Peace Corps and applied to Seminary. I thought that I would give it a year to see how I liked it, because frankly I could never see myself as a pastor. But I also knew that if I didn’t take this next step I would regret it.
Thirty years ago I didn’t have many role models of women in the ministry and when I told my father that I was going to seminary, he said, “Beth, sit down and have a beer. You are crazy!”
As I sat in my first supervised ministry group in seminary I wondered if my Dad was right because I was the only one in the group who said, “I have no idea why I am here… maybe to be a missionary?”
What I discovered in seminary was that I loved asking questions of ultimate meaning. I loved taking my faith to the edge and seeing if there was anything left after vigorous examination. I loved learning about church history and philosophy. And I loved drinking beer with my fellow seminarians as we pondered the meaning of life and our purpose on earth.
But I still was unsure of my call to ordained ministry. At the time I was told by my mentors, “We see your call, so trust us. Get ordained and live into it.” So that is what I did, taking baby steps along the way, learning as I went, claiming my authority as I lived into it.
I started out as a chaplain at a hospital, then as a pastor to 2 country churches, then an associate pastor, a senior pastor, an interim pastor and then as the Director of New Faith Community Development. Now I work as a coach to people starting new faith communities and I am starting a network of house churches In Portland, Oregon.
Instead of living in a different country every five years as a cultural anthropologist or political agitator, I have lived into my call of being in mission wherever I find myself. Today my fascination is with the post-modern, post-Christian culture of the Pacific Northwest.
Mine has been a continual journey of self-discovery and re-examining. Every year I have asked myself these questions —
- What will make me come alive this year?
- What do I want to learn?
- How do I want to experiment in building community?
- How do I want to use my gifts?
I have come full circle. The Peace Corps had me pegged as a community developer working for the church. I still am that “normal” person who has a passion to build community with the purpose of transformation — mind, body and soul. I can think of no greater honor than to practice that through the church.
If you are interested in exploring your own call into ministry check out Exploration 2013.