I have been blessed the past few months to spend time with one of my classmates, Leslie. She has quickly become one of my closest friends and favorite people at McCormick and Chicago. One of the reasons that I love spending so much time with her is because she challenges me to be a better person. The reason I mention this is because I am truly grateful for the support she, and others, gave me in January. As some of you many know, I decided to leave my field site. Although it was my decision to leave, I did not feel as though I had a choice in the matter. My time at LPPC had ended, and I needed to acknowledge it so that I, and the congregation, could move on. I entered the field site with excitement but also trepidation. While in Israel during July 2013, I realized that I did not want to be a pastor. I had been feeling that way ever since I first felt called to seminary, back at the beginning of 2012. But it was the honest conversation I had with my friend on the dig, Alison, that made me accept, not what my call is, but what it is not. To be candid with you and with myself, I cannot clearly name my sense of call the same way I was able to name my sense of call to seminary. But I do know that God is not calling me to parish ministry. Some (well, many) people have told me that I have gifts for ministry. Although I take that as a huge compliment, possessing the gifts for ministry is not the only factor. I am fortunate to be blessed with the ability to do many things. The empathy that is a part of me is not something that is exclusive for ministry. Many of the gifts that people see in me are because I am the middle child (who has played the traditional role for years); because I am a 4 on the enneagram (I could talk for days about the enneagram, which measures one’s motivations); because I am the product of my parents, who are both kind and friendly people (regardless of what my father might say about himself); because I enjoy making other people happy (sometimes to my own detriment) and many other reasons. Many of these personality traits are often found in pastors. However something else is often found in pastors: a call from God towards pastoral ministry.
That is not something that I have within me. I am still working out what exactly my sense of call is (does anybody really know what their call is?) and that is where Leslie has come in handy. Leslie is called by God to ministry. She has an incredible gift of forcing me (and others) to be brutally honest with themselves. Leslie does this by asking the hard questions people normally avoid or are afraid to ask. The two of us have joked that we are 'soul friends’, but I honestly believe this to be true. I believe that God places people in our lives for a purpose and Leslie is a part of my life because I need her unique, challenging, supportive, honest and sincere form of friendship.
This is not to say that other people at McCormick have not been helpful. This is not to say that my family hasn’t been supportive. On the contrary, the support I received from my family and close friends at McCormick during January was incredibly life-giving. I do not quit things and I felt as though my decision to leave LPPC was me quitting. I sometimes still feel the twang of guilt when I pass the church or hear news of the congregation. I am not sure if I will ever be able to say that I feel completely guilt free about my decision to leave. But I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was the right decision. Leslie always tells me that “guilt is a useless emotion”. And I cannot help but agree: guilt does nothing. If you have harmed someone, guilt doesn’t ease the pain they feel. Guilt does not help you mend broken bonds. White guilt is something that has done all kinds of harm in the past. In order to help someone, guilt is not a tool one can use to make a difference. It merely forces the guilty party to feel bad about themselves. It might even prevent him or her from fixing what is broken. Guilt has rendered people immobile and useless. I wish I could say that I refuse to feel it, but I cannot. However I have decided to take my guilty feelings, when I have them, and channel those emotions into something good. Changing a sense of guilt into a productive emotion takes time.
I learned a lot about myself: my preferred style of confrontation and the ways in which I enjoy (and do not enjoy) being managed or talked to by a supervisor. I learned that my education is my responsibility - not someone else’s. In the same way, I learned that my faith journey is mine, and mine alone. I learned that saying “no” is not only acceptable, but something that everyone needs to learn how to do. And I learned that churches are not perfect. One of the reasons that I decided to do my field site with LPPC was because I wanted to work in a church that was different from Fourth Presbyterian Church. I wanted to work with an older population of the congregation than the children or youth. I wanted to learn how small churches are run from the inside. I was less interested in preaching, leading service and leading a Bible Study. I did these things because I felt that I needed to. Unfortunately, I do not think the congregation was ready for an intern such as myself. 2 weeks after I started, LPPC’s new pastor began work. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now, I realize that an intern should not have been placed at a church that was going through such a difficult change. A mentor is supposed to help the student find a place in the congregation. But if the pastor did not have a place yet, how was I also going to make one? LPPC has had an intern every year for decades, and I think they continue to have one out of tradition, more than a sense of wanting to teach and bring up a new pastor. This was all coupled with the fact that I did not truly want to be there. Over the summer I realized that I was not called to parish ministry, but felt as though I needed to honor my commitments to LPPC by completing the field site. It culminated in a series of very tearful (on my part) meetings between myself, LPPC and the administration of McCormick. My sense of loyalty is very strong, which is one of the reasons this decision was so difficult for me to make. I felt like I owed the congregation something, and needed to stay. But what Leslie, and others, helped me realize is that my sense of loyalty to myself needs to be fiercely strong as well. My sense of loyalty to my personal faith journey needs to be stronger than that of a group of people I barely knew. By the time of these meetings in January, I was starting to question my faith. It was becoming hard for me to be in church without feeling like an impostor. I felt like my presence in church, as a seminary student intern, meant that people could assume or guess my call. Sunday morning became my least favorite time of the week, and I dreaded going to my field site.
THAT IS NOT OK.
Luckily I had an incredible support network that told me so on a regular basis. They talked with me, let me cry, listened to my concerns and, most importantly, validated my feelings.
I could go on and on about this, but I will not. What’s done, is done. I will not graduate as planned in May. The field studies office was unwilling to let me complete a second field site for only the spring semester, so I will repeat the process next school year. I have not yet been assigned my next field site, but I have high hopes. I am going to work with an agency that will teach me the grant writing process. I believe that my BS in Business coupled with my MA in Ministry makes for a very unique set of skills. I hope to put my talents to use in the non-profit sector. This decision has complicated things (I am having to look for a part-time job in Chicago instead of looking for a full-time job located anywhere) but I know that it was the right decision. I have been able to enjoy myself this semester in a way that would not have been possible if I was still at my field site.
Although many people have understood my reasoning and supported me during this process, there are those who have not understood and those who (upon reading this) will think that I childishly acted out of anger. It is very difficult for me to hear that someone is disappointed in my decision. However, I am not disappointed in my decision. If I had gone through everything that I did at LPPC and decided to stay because I wanted to graduate on time, then I would have been disappointed in myself. As always, I am excited to see what lies in store for me in the future. But I am also focusing more on present-day events. I don’t know who said it…maybe it is from a movie, but a recent quote that I have been telling myself is, “Life is what happens when you’re waiting for it.” This experience has empowered me to take control over my education, my happiness, and my life. It is not what I expected, but following God’s call can rarely be predicted.