Wilderness Update from Chaplain Mike – June 2, 2014
It is no secret that I have long struggled with church.
Since leaving congregational ministry over nine years ago, I have been in the wilderness when it comes to having a church home and getting involved deeply in a congregation. After trying a few paths which turned out to be dead ends I eventually found a theological home among the Lutherans, but that still hasn’t made participation in a local church family any easier.
Many of you know that I became involved in a process to become ordained as a minister in the ELCA. That took the better part of the last two years, and in the end I was approved as a candidate. The next step is what the ELCA calls assignment — a person who is approved is not officially ordained until he or she accepts a call from a congregation. I ran into a bit of a roadblock at that point, writing about it somewhat cryptically in a Feb. 10 post called, “Pausing to Consider the Journey.”
For two months, I took a time-out from church, using weekends to talk and pray with my wife, seek counsel from people I respect, go on a silent retreat at Gethsemani, and think and read and write.
The end result is that I probably won’t be actively pursuing pastoral ministry and ordination in the ELCA. It still could happen, but it is growing more doubtful. It is doubtful because the process doesn’t fit someone in my position very well, but to be honest, it is also because I have my own doubts about the wisdom of taking that path.
As far as “ministry,” this poses no problems or concerns for me. Of course, I love to preach and teach and lead worship, but as far as providing pastoral care for people, I have remarkable opportunities every day to do that in hospice chaplaincy. In fact, I am sure that I can do more of it than I ever could as a congregational minister. I flat out love my job, have gained some seniority where I work, and have some potential new challenges that, if implemented, will make hospice work even more meaningful and significant. My vocational identity is secure, and I find joy in in it.
However, one of the reasons I’ve always been sad about not being in pastoral ministry is that my wife and I still haven’t found our niche together in ministry. Nothing has come close to the partnership and sense of being members of an extended family of believers together that we had when we were a pastoral family. I’m still trying to figure out how that might happen for us.
There are many, many reasons for that, and I won’t bore you with them. Suffice to say that every place I’ve tried to fit in turns out to be round, and I don’t seem to fit.
Maybe the problem is mine. Perhaps I need to submit to some re-shaping. Maybe I’m just too damn insistent that the hole has to be perfectly square. I have no doubt there is truth in that. But I can’t help thinking there must be a square-er hole out there somewhere.
Thanks for listening.
I don’t share this out of some narcissistic need for attention. In fact, I’ve been hesitant to talk or write much about it, even with those closest to me, and I’ve tried to keep this post as succinct and general as possible. But I have found that, when we share our stories, it gives us a chance to connect with one another in conversation as fellow travelers.
Any other square pegs out there?