The older I get the more I realize how frequently life can come full circle. At the age of 53, I find myself learning lessons that I thought I had learned many years earlier. Let me share an example of that with you.
When I first went to college, I felt like I was being called to serve God’s people. I got an undergraduate degree in education and went to work immediately as a teacher in the juvenile corrections system. I loved my time in the detention center. After six year working in the juvenile detention center, I then went on to work in the field of HIV/AIDS as an educator and outreach specialist. Once again, I loved my work. My call to serve was so strong, in fact, that I spent nearly all of my free time volunteering on efforts that were related to human rights. I desperately wanted to protect – and advocate for – those whom society defined as “the least of these”.
Toward the end of my twenties, however, I began to realize something. While I absolutely loved being able to help folks who were in the process of turning their lives around, an essential piece of the work was missing for me. A hugely spiritual piece of the work.
As an individual who worked for secular entities (primarily in government funded positions) I wasn’t able to talk with people about their value and worth as children of God. Most of my time was spent on either trying to get people to do something of value for themselves (i.e. encourage juvenile offenders to completed their education) or get those people engaging in high risk behavior for the transmission of HIV to stop those high-risk behaviors. I was not able to talk about deeper motivations that could lay behind their decisions.
That is what drove me to seek a seminary education, get ordained, and respond to the call to serve local churches. In a faith-based setting, I could talk openly with people about their beauty and worth as a child of God. I could help them explore what their purpose their life might have. In other words, I could address the big life issues that could help people to make healthy decisions regarding all aspects of their being.
When I found myself getting burned out in my parish ministry (for reasons that I will continue to explore in future entries), I figured that I needed to flee from the overwhelming demands of the parish in order to tend to my own personal life.
The first obvious question that arose was, “So what will I do?”
Two answers seemed obvious. First, I could either seek work in the field of treatment; or second, I could return to the field of corrections and work with juvenile or adult offenders. So I started to apply for jobs in those areas (and a few other loosely related positions involving education).
In the interviews for the positions, I was confronted with the same realization that hit me when I approached the age of thirty – over 23 years ago. While it would be incredibly rewarding to help people in crisis or transition, I would once again be limited in my ability to engage them about some of the deeper issues I felt needed to be addressed in order for personal transformation to take root.
It was that realization that played a HUGE role in my decision to stay in the field of parish ministry. For parish ministry offers a rare opportunity to not only participate in the shift of attitudes and behaviors; it provides an opportunity for a clergy person to participate in the transformation of how an individual sees her or himself and the world. It is the ability to participate in that kind of transformation that excites me most about returning to my current position of local pastor when I finish my sabbatical on August 31.