My church book group read Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic this week. It is Reinhold Niebuhr's journal from his 13 years in ministry, 1915 - 1928, in Detroit, Michigan. It is interesting from the historical perspective of the effort to protect workers as the automobile industry developed and of the other social issues of the time. But as a clergy I was interested to read his many entries wondering about the integrity of preaching, of pastoral care, and leadership as well as his constant harping on humility (I wonder if that was an issue for him) and what he saw as false preaching and pastoring. The end of the journal marks the end of his pastoral ministry; he took a post at Union Theological Seminary in Christian ethics.
Today I spent the morning with my Bishop and District Superintendent, a few other clergy, and four seminary students. We had a long and lively conversation about integrity in ministry, making the transition from seminary to the pastorate, and committing to itinerancy, among other things.
This week I am also reading, for my work on the Board of Ordained Ministry, the papers of people seeking to become clergy in our conference.
All of this is stirring around in my head just now. What does it mean to be clergy, how do we commit to this work, how do we stay in it for a lifetime? Here I am almost halfway through. I have thought of quitting a few times, but that seems a distant memory now. How did I end up here? How do I keep going?
I keep coming to what a privilege it is, though sometimes an exhausting one, to walk this path with people. I get to ask the deep questions, I get to see the whole spectrum of life and growth, I get to be a part of the big moments and I get to search together with folks for God in the midst of all of it. I said this morning that I can't imagine another job where I get to "make a difference every day." (Perhaps especially one that uses my gifts. There's no chance of me being a doctor or lawyer or...lots of other things.)
Niebuhr did great things but I am disappointed with him for bailing on the ministry. He got a little sentimental at the end, stating it would be good to watch the little "kiddies" grow up, etc., but it also seems he was looking for his out. I don't know. Lots of folks leave, and it makes sense, and lots of folks are wise to wrestle hard before they commit in the first place. I realize I'm lucky to know what I'm supposed to do and to be able to do it and to even get paid for it. It is a privilege, a grace, a blessing and a life.