Some (un)surprising reflections on my first weeks in ordained ministry

I’ve been doing “the job” for about three weeks now and its seems a good time to stop and reflect on what, if anything, has been surprising to me.

What strikes me about this is that the surprises to me are things I should not be surprised about since they are in general the things experience ministers involved in my training said I would discover (much to my irritation at the time). Aspects of ministry I was inclined during training to downplay or minimise turn out to loom larger than I allowed for and to mean more.

These fall into two main categories: the church as community of service; the ministerial role as pastor.

I find as I think about the life and future direction of the two congregations I am ministering among that the service they offer to the communities within which they exist is absolutely central. This is rather different between them but is, in each case, definitive of what they are as churches. I have previously been inclined to think that service, while important, was marginal as compared to worship, and in some ways I’d be inclined still to think that. But in the concrete situation I find that doesn’t feel as true as it does in the abstract.

Of course worship is critical (and I’ll maybe return to that as a distant third thing) but service is more important than I’d allowed for. I find myself excited and enthusiastic about involving myself in supporting and participating this kind of activity in a way that I had not expected. This puts me closer to the denominational mainstream of the URC, which being a contrary kind of individual disappoints me in some ways, but that can’t be helped. The things we do as churches for those around us turn out to be more my kind of thing than I’d allowed for.

Secondly pastoral work and especially pastoral visiting has proved to be a huge source of strength and nurture for me in my ministry. There have been a number of days when I’ve been feeling tired and daunted by the task I’ve taken on but then I’ve gone to visit a member of one of my congregations and left with a song on my heart (and probably and embarrassingly out of tune on my lips). Being welcomed into people’s homes and lives and sharing their stories is so life-enhancing that it seems incredible that it should be part of what I’m here to do, since it feels like a ministry to me rather than by me.

This week I’ve taken communion to two members of my congregations who, for different reasons, find it difficult to get to church to take part in the sacrament. This has been a huge privilege. To be able to administer this sign and symbol of their union with Christ , otherwise inaccessible to them, is so precious that it amazes me that I can now do it so easily (with help from the very beautiful order for home communion in Common Order).

This centrality of the pastoral relationships is not surprising but like many expected things it can still surprise, The extent to which my pastoral vocation is a gift to me that fills me with joy hugely exceeds anything I foresaw.

Finally worship (that’s an order). My self-image has been that I’m a worship traditionalist who likes nothing better than a Presbyterian 5 hymn sandwich and there’s something in that. The two churches where I’m leading are fairly traditional in their approach but both are also, to different degrees rather informal. I’m adapting to this better than I expected and find myself beginning to want to do things that are (slightly) outside what I’m used to.

Anyway it’s all good so far. I’m loving this new way of life and feel full of life and energy. What puzzles me is that everybody doesn’t want to be a minister of word and sacrament.

(Oh, I’ve used the picture of Wesley because my walking the couple of miles between the churches – through glorious Hertfordshire countryside – has been the occasion of plenty of comment and led one of my cousins to compare me to him).

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