I’ve been asked this question twice in the last week, once by my daughter and once by one of a group of schoolchildren who were visiting one of my churches. In each case I’ve given the same answer: visiting members of my congregations, but that isn’t quite straightforwardly the truth.
It is true the most joyful moments in the 7 weeks I’ve been a minister have (as far as I can remember) been in coming away from visiting church members. There have been a number of occasions when my spirit has been lifted either by the transparent goodness of the people I’ve been talking to or by the sense of the presence of God in the prayer we’ve shared.
But does the way I am fed by these pastoral encounters make them my favourite thing? I’m not so sure about this on further reflection. I have been very excited and energised by the three Bible studies I’ve been leading, each quite different in character.
At one, the only one that meets weekly, we’re attempting to find a way in to the Old Testament for people who all say that they’ve never been able to get much from it. I’m sharing with them the historical knowledge that I think is indispensable to a proper reading of the texts and hoping that as we get more confident with that the theological issues will open up (see here for the blog that supports that study group).
At the other group in that church, which meets fortnightly, we have decided we want to explore the life and growth of the earliest church through a study of the NT literature outside the gospels, beginning with Paul’s letters. At the other fortnightly group we are following the last York course, which encourages us to think about the way the Church relates to a secularising society.
In each case I am learning from and being challenged by the experience of being the theological professional, as it were, with the responsibility of facilitating the exploration of profound issues of faith: what is the Bible and how should we relate ourselves to it? what is the Church and what is its purpose? where is God in a culture that is turning away from explicit acknowledgement of him?
These might be my “favourite thing” from another angle. since they draw on and allow me to develop the teaching ministry that it has sometimes been suggested to me might be my true vocation.
On the other hand, though, I love the process of preparing and leading worship centred on the proclamation of the Word in preaching. The rhythm of my week is structured around this process of identifying and wrestling with scripture passages, choosing and ordering hymns, writing a sermon, preparing prayers. The way in which this is teaching me both about the Bible and about the contours of my own relationship to God through Christ in the Spirit is less soaringly joyful than visits and less intellectually exciting than the Bible studies but in terms of my own spiritual development feels more profoundly formative.
Then there are the meetings. I have found chairing both elders and church meetings fascinating and educational. Each of the meetings I chair has its own character and each seems to me to reveal something of the way the Spirit works in her Church. Because they happen less often I might not think about them so immediately but they feel like essential moments in the development of my ministry in the context of the missions of the two churches. Those missions and my ministries will be shaped together in large part through these meetings and their discernment of God’s will for us.
So, what is my favourite thing about being a minister? It is, I suppose, that I feel so at home with myself in this new identity. In all my previous professional roles, as (long term) student, as computer systems developer, as consultant, as manager, I felt a distance between myself and what I did all day that spilled over into the rest of my life. There was an uncertainty about who I was, really, that often made me feel inauthentic in my dealings with people. That’s all gone. I AM a minister of the Church. That really is who and what I am.
So my favourite thing about being a minister is that I really do believe that it is my vocation. I am now doing what I’m supposed to be doing. As part of that I feel a sense that all parts of my life complement and reinforce one another, I feel like a single person.
So, I thank God that I have been blessed by being called to this life and called to this place.