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In 2016, I was encouraged to explore chaplaincy and I entered a one-year, educational (CPE) residency. If you’ve never heard of CPE, look it up here.
As much as I owe to The Rev. Kirk Bish, The Rev. Sandy Kessinger, The Rev. Dr. Richard (Rick) Carlson, and The Rev. Stan Reep, for getting me on the path, the real work/effort is a credit to The Rev. James Pfeiffer and The Rev. Dr. Beth Muehlhausen who jointly walked with me through becoming a Chaplain.
Despite not working in a congregational setting, I am still an ordained Lutheran pastor, serving in the specialized ministry of hospice chaplaincy. I still have the occasional opportunity to lead worship services and preach, which in all honesty I kinda miss doing regularly, although I am tremendously grateful to have NOT had to navigate the pandemic as a congregational leader. It’s been “interesting” enough in the healthcare sphere over the past two years and counting.
As I approach the actual 10-year mark, I had the opportunity to renew my ordination vows as part of a Holy Week Mass. In the company of other ordained ministers, the regional bishop and the assembled people of God, I again asserted my intention and promise to uphold the teachings of the Lutheran Christian church in the world.
So, you might be wondering just what those vows might be and/or how/if they are still relevant to me.
Call – Being called is a bit of an abstract idea to me, in the sense that it is an internal sense of being drawn by an unseen force toward a purpose that is then also affirmed and validated externally by the people and institutions one interacts with. My sense of being called to the work I do has wavered pretty regularly. As I mentioned in the earlier post, when I entered seminary, all I wanted was to be a “good” parish pastor. Now, that’s less important. There simply are days that feel less than fulfilling and that I question whether I am offering people anything meaningful. But, right about then or shortly after, I have an experience or two that connects and resonates with me in so many ways, I can’t deny that this is my part in the divine/cosmic puzzle-plan.
Holy Scripture/Lutheran Confessions – Holy Scripture means the historical texts known as “the Bible,” which more narrowly means the Christian church’s accepted sacred texts. After a seminary education and subsequent study, “Holy Scripture” is not such a black/white, clear-cut identifier entity. It IS the source of my basis of reference for my life, as I grew up in the Christian faith tradition and haven’t drifted (too far) from it as a reference point to interpreting faith and life. The Lutheran Confessions are certainly important, but I honestly haven’t given them much consideration over ten years of service to the church, and often take them with a grain of salt. Mostly, even cradle-to-grave Lutherans, and many pastors, don’t seem to know what they are or how they apply, unless they are doctrine-focused. Its not the thing that people bring up in casual conversations when the world is out of sorts, or even when they’re trying to figure out how to be “church” in society. And don’t even get me started on cherry-picking from either source just to be “right” about something. But, sure, OK. I’ll dust off the Book of Concord anyday now and drop some verses to pull people back on board.
Means of Grace, Living Example to all people in all places – This one probably means the most to me, no pun intended. In my/our Lutheran understanding, the Means of Grace is sorta code language for how we hear and experience the consoling promise of “the gospel:” sacraments, preaching, and mutually supportive relationships with friends and family. I’m (ultimately) no better or worse than any other created being. I continue to be stunned and amazed when I recognize God’s ongoing activity in my life (which typically happens in hindsight). Living as an example was a big stressor, at first, and even still has its issues. I am, and won’t be “perfect.” By and large, that’s the point of my life and experience; if God can use ME to do THIS, then we’re all gonna be okay. Sure, there are those who think I should/shouldn’t be doing this or that, but my own “living, daring confidence” in God’s grace is what allows me to be fully ME, whether I have your approval or not. I drink, curse, listen to obnoxious (to some) music, read/watch inapparopriate things, I’m often selfish, etc., but somehow, through it all, I remain assured of God’s love for me, and thus God’s love for everyone else.
The response to each is “I will, and I ask God to help me.” – This is the seeming linchpin to the whole mess. It is my acknowledgement that, I commit myself to these vows, but recognizing that I will ultimately fail, and if anything fruitful comes out of the whole mess its because of God. I used to know a pastoral colleague who would often assert, “If I am good at all, its because God is good in and through me, not because of any goodness on my own.” Yep. It might sound reckless, but I trust God to sort out and “fix.”
So, there we have it. Ten years in ordained ministry summed up in a (perhaps) shoddy manner. What will the next 1 – 10 years bring? Literally, only God knows. I doubt, however, that I will return to being solely a congregational pastor. But, again, I NEVER imagined this is where I’d be and what I’d be doing in my weirdest dreams. So, I am often as perplexed by it all as you might be. I do know that I have learned A LOT and have had my mind/opinion/outlook changed on several topics on several occasions over the past decade (or so). While I feel mostly content with who I’ve become and who (and whose) I am, I am certain I can always be and do “better.” I’ll keep trying, and with God’s help, you and I can keep on working together toward better days and times.
Peace be with you, this day and always.