Julie Rudd brings us today's post as part of our ongoing series of profiles of ESR graduates:
“I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it.“
I was in college, though, before I realized that I could go to seminary, before I noticed that Sunday School teacher/church pianist/activist/bible school director/missionary actually coalesced toward things I had thought that women couldn’t do. It was at the Earlham School of Religion, though, that I learned to say this phrase out loud: I want to be a pastor. First year, second semester: I took Introduction to Preaching with Tom Mullen and Nancy Faus-Mullen. I told myself and my friends that I just wanted to improve my public speaking skills. Myself didn’t quite believe me, and my friends waited me out.
Tom and Nancy, reviewing the video of my first sermon with me, asked me how much experience I had with preaching. I hadn’t had any, and said so. They were surprised, then thoughtful, then serious; they told me that preaching was a gift of mine, and I needed to admit it. I didn’t, right then, but they kept poking me, and they weren’t the only friends who insisted that I be honest with myself.
I chose Pastoral Ministry as my emphasis. It was an Ebenezer stone, for me. There was a powerful sense of release and relief when I could finally let myself say it: I want to be a pastor. Not a chaplain, or a professor, or non-profit director, or a missionary, or any of the other things one could do with a seminary degree, but a pastor.
Way forward seemed clear: obviously, I will find a church to pastor. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I graduated and couldn’t find a position anywhere. Waitressing wasn’t cutting it, and I started to panic. I want to be a pastor, I said. Where’s my job?
I found a job at the Salvation Army in Syracuse, NY, about an hour away from where I grew up, working with clients with mental illnesses that affected their ability to maintain stable housing. While I in no sense saw the breadth of American poverty, I did see first-hand how people get trapped and crushed, and how stranglingly hopeless those cycles feel. I saw how often those who look or act disreputable are treated with disrespect, regardless of how hard they are trying to find their bootstraps. I saw how therapeutic a trip to the zoo or a walk through a rose garden can be, when offered to someone isn’t usually given a gift. Some of this I had known, already, but the knowledge of it was driven deeper into my heart.
I saw too, within myself, a certain herding instinct- a desire to build community among our group of clients while responding to their particular needs as people. I was never happy or efficient with the paper-pushing aspects of the job, but I could remember to play the music that Tara* liked when she was in my car, then change to the music Michael* liked when I picked him up. I didn’t start conversations about religion – that wasn’t my job – but when Adam* was kicked out of his church for ‘being weird,’ I could passionately preach how much God loves even those who can’t find a comfortable churchly home. Asked or not, I felt called to seek out that of God in each one of them, and love on it as hard as I could. I could pair up clients, on trips, such that friendships would start. I could be more fierce in advocating for my clients than I had ever dreamed. My job title wasn’t ‘pastor,’ but the gifts God gave me, sharpened during my time at ESR, were in play.
I saw this in myself, and others said it aloud for me. It showed up in my performance evaluations (loves powerfully; office is a wreck), and in comments from co-workers. Even my clients (or, perhaps especially my clients) mentioned that it seemed like I should be working in a church. Pastoring in the church is in no way dependent on a Sunday morning pulpit to fill, or an office for my books, or membership in the local ministerial association. I realized in Syracuse that I’m a pastor, not because I’m paid to be a pastor, but because that’s who God made me and called me to be.
Now, my job title actually is ‘pastor.’ I’m serving at Wilmington Friends Meeting, a delightful group of Friends in the cutest town in Southwest Ohio. I’m co-teaching the youth Sunday School class, and I offer a children’s message most Sundays. I have more opportunities to work for justice than I can count, and sharing the Gospel happens both inside and outside the meetinghouse walls. I get to be on every committee, too, which is less fun than it sounded at eight years old, but I love seeing every part of the meeting as much as I had thought I would. I’m not the church pianist, because ours is much better than me, but I do get to play handbells- a reasonable substitute. My time at ESR prepared me well for becoming the minister that I dreamed of being as a child. I find myself relying on things I learned in classes, but frankly, even moreso on friendships that were founded during seminary.
What I’ve learned since ESR, though, is that I’m as much a pastor in the line at Kroger as I am in the pulpit on Sunday. Some are called administrators. Some are called prophets. Some are called miracle workers. We have all these kinds of ministers at Wilmington Friends. I’m called a pastor, though, and I’m grateful to all the F/friends in my life, particularly those from ESR, who have given me the courage to say that out loud.