Friday, 24 March 2017

Transitional Growing Pains

Minister without charge

In June 2015, I felt called to pursue a new role in the Church of Scotland - that of Coordinator of a Pilot Project from the Panel on Review and Reform - Path of Renewal.
I saw, in the description of the Pilot, an opportunity to mentor other ministers and congregations in discerning opportunities and making room for mission in their parishes and communities- something I longed to do where I was then but simply didn't have the capacity to prioritise in a parish of 11,000 with 5 school chaplaincies and 90 funerals a year, where promised, presbytery planned, ministerial assistance didn't ever materialise in my 7 years in the charge.
Path of Renewal offers not another programme for Renewal but participation in a movement, creating space to discern and act on the leading of the Spirit to places in our communities where God is already at work.
Confirmation of the call came when I was offered the post, after interview and, a few hours later, as I conducted one of the local Primary School's end of term service, I knew that, by the time staff and pupils returned after the summer holiday, I would no longer be their school chaplain.
And so began a journey, through demission, into the strange territory of a minister without charge.
Reactions from colleagues were many and varied but mostly, disbelief that I would demit my charge and leave parish ministry.
Reactions from the congregation were mainly expressions of hurt or declarations that they "knew I was destined for higher things" and no reassurance on my part seemed to convince folk that ministering with them was one of those "higher things" but that God had now called me elsewhere.
Demission involves leaving church, leaving home, leaving community - all, on their own, painful experiences.
Although we found a new place to worship, a place of welcome and nurture, it was a full six months before I could manage through the service without tears.
I simply missed the community of which I'd been a part and grieved that loss.
And, after six months grieving, I realised that I was also grieving a loss of status.
Who was I if I was no longer a parish minister? (Ironically, I had been ordained into Hospital Chaplaincy some 20 years before.)
15 years a Parish minister had subsumed my identity.
And then, at Easter, change began.
Archbishop Justin Welby, speaking into the revelations about his paternity, asserted: " My identity does not come from genetics. My identity is in Christ"
Hearing this was a turning point for me.
Post Easter, with these words speaking powerfully into my life, and pondering the post resurrection Jesus feeding his disciples on the beach, I began to emerge from grief to reconsider my identity in Christ.
It ceased to rankle quite as much when consigned to the bottom of a sign in sheet in Presbytery as a minister without charge - or when colleagues were dismissive of me as "a 121 person now". (Staffing the Institutional body)
Although, thankfully, I loved the new tasks in which I'd been involved, the training, the teaching, the mentoring, the travelling, I now felt able to embrace those in the new security of my status as a beloved child of God.
I thank God for conferring that status and for calling me to fulfil a new role in kingdom building.
But, as I moved out of parish ministry, I had no idea how long it would take to get the parish out of me - or how painful that journey would be. I have much more empathy with the Israelites in the wilderness!
Numbers 11:4-6
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
 One thing is for sure - Demission is not for wimps!


Mary McLauchlan said...

Hi Liz, i had a similar experience when i took early retirement. I returned to my home village and church where i had been an elder. But now i was just a person in the pew, not an elder or a for duty person. I began asking God, what am i meant to be doing now? After quite a while i realised that as I'm ordained I'm still and always will be a minister, so i now think of myself as a minister without a parish. I have now done quite a lot of supply in my home church and our link, and welcomed warmly as such. I know just what you write about. It's a new phase of ministry in a different way. May God bless you in your work for His Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Dear Liz, thank you for this moving reflection. I can identify with some of what you say although ironically my experience was quite different. As a young person I responded to a strong sense of call and became a parish deaconess. In the parish and in the wider church people just didn't understand my calling or seem to value the calling to the Diaconate. They couldn't understand why I wasn't a "proper minister", as though I was just playing at it. Sometimes that was quite painful. Later I too served as a hospital chaplain - for 27 years - and I loved it. It was such a privilege and felt like the best job in the world. Out of parish ministry, suddenly the church seemsed to accept who I was and what my calling was about! It seems that we have to have a label that people understand so that we fit in their boxes.
However, God calls us out of our comfort zones into areas of service that suits our gifts and our human frailties. In retirement I find myself being called to do things I never ever thought I'd do and I realise we take our identity from who we are in God's eyes, not our own. I feel more fulfilled than ever.
Liz, you have so many gifts and skills and they are all coming together to enrich the Church and the world in what you are doing now. You will never know how far the ripples spread. Your writing touches so many people too. Rejoice and be glad in it! The Easter message tells us God is out of the box and so are you!

liz said...

What wonderful, hopeful encouragement.
Thank you.

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