Last week I attended the First Year Minister’s Seminar at the UUA Headquarters at 25 Beacon Street in Boston. The program was great… it was good to hear directly from the many different UUA staff offices, and the conversation I had about my theory of social justice with a senior UU Minister in the second story hallway was priceless… And none of those reasons are why I went.
I went to see and connect with colleagues… with my “class” of ministers who will walk together through the joys and sorrows, the challenges and concerns in the coming years. I went to re-touch some hands and hearts that I have known, and to meet a few hands and hearts I have never met before. I went to have conversations about faith and church-life… but also about the struggles that many of us have in adapting to the life of ministry from the intensity of seminary.
I went to talk about the sense of loss that I have felt, in going from seminary and residency environments where almost every conversation had some deep theological, spiritual, or psychological meaning attached to it… to the reality that the majority of the conversations a parish minister engages with are about the leaky faucet in the church sink, or the church member who keeps overworking staff, or the need for a committee to re-think it’s place and purpose. I seek the theological implications in these parish events in part because I miss the depth…
I went to the event to share my current feeling of being burned out on the “life of study” aspect of the liberal ministry… and was delighted to learn that I am not the only one of my class who has gifted themselves a year of fiction reading before we delve back into theologians, sociologists, and philosophers… Though I am the only one who has made that year of fiction all “science fiction”… so it is good to have some uniqueness…
I went to the event to share with my colleagues that I am tired… to reflect with them that the current balance of ministry I am in is not one that is sustainable. They helped me to realize I can probably do both parish ministry and reserve military chaplaincy… however having over a 2 hour drive between my church and my military unit, as well as the high pace of Interim ministry is probably not sustainable for more than this year.
I went to the seminar to hear my colleagues speak of whether they are also feeling isolated… whether they were finding challenges they did not expect in their new ministries… whether they had found some patterns and systems that I might be able to modify and adopt.
I came to explore with my colleagues how we could manage the tension of being “in competition” with each other for different congregational placements or hospital chaplaincies… and yet find a way to manage the dynamics and secrecy of that competitive environment in a way that allows us to love and support one another in service of a larger vision. Colleagues came to tell me of their love for the congregation I am currently serving, even if they did not become it’s next minister… and I felt moved to tell a few colleagues of my puppy-love for and interest in their congregation… even if my ministry with them was a road only to be imagined and never to be traveled. I am more convinced than ever that the secrecy around our search process is counter-productive and shame-producing.
As a Unitarian Universalist Minister, when I think of colleagues I almost always think of ministers who are more senior than I. Many of the ministers I have trained and worked with have been in the ministry for more than a decade… often more than two. The challenges they have faced, the joys they have shared, the victories they have won… are different than I or my generation of ministry have and are likely to share. I value the wisdom of these colleagues… and yet there seems to me to be a disconnect, a barrier of time and experience that prevents the kind of depth that I would love to have with some colleagues. I have been able to move across that barrier a time or two… but those relationships appear to be the exception, not the rule.
I think my greatest realization of last week is this… there is a special collegial relationship among ministers who come into the ministry at a certain time. One of the gifts of attending a seminary with a lot of students from one denomination is that you are able to begin building the basis for those relationships early, and hold them through the early years of ministry. When we ministers get together for retreats or conferences, we often sub-divide along the kinds of ministry we do, not the generations of ministry we began in. Now that it is over and past, I think I will miss having the opportunity to be with “my class”. Perhaps the opportunity will come again someday…
Yours in faith,