Heartbreak, boundaries, and a land lain fallow.

Image: A large garden that has been overgrown in each row. Even the walking path is lush from weeds.

I have worn the phrase, “I’m in the ordination process” like a badge of honor.
With hopes that one day the badge would turn sash.
Today, I took the badge off, and placed it down to rest.

I had been in the ordination process with the United Methodist Church since February 2015. Five years of questions, and meetings, and proving. Five years of living in the swamps of the “already” and “not yets” of ministry. Of pride in being a woman, walking the beaten path that those before me have tread. Walking with my chin up, knowing that my steps press down the walkway for those who will come after me. Along the way I’ve been told…

Not Yet.
Not Yet.

Ministry is no joke. It’s not for the faint of heart or soul. It’s exhausting. Lonely. Isolating. It makes you wonder if you are/ever will be good enough. It’s an uncomfortable balance of leading, learning, listening, taking care, observing. Trying to be all things to all people- including yourself. Part of me thinks that it’s difficult because it’s a dangerous job. There’s a lot of power in pastoring. It demands trust. I think that’s why being in the process felt like an ongoing rush week, constantly feeling as if I needed to prove to those already “in” that I am enough. That I have what it takes. That I too have been chosen.

“Being chosen” feels religiously yucky, to be honest, but I don’t know how else to put it. Since I’ve accepted this call, I’ve felt all kinds of ways about it. I’ve been proud. I’ve wanted to trade it in. But I always come back around to realizing that my fears are rooted in my own insecurities:
“But I haven’t seen ministry that looks like X-Y-Z…”
“But I’m not trained in the ____ area.”
“But I’m not good at pastoral care.”
And then I have my community. The ones who are friends, and the ones who are co-workers. My cloud of the witnesses to my call. They all have been incredible in identifying my ministry strengths and gifts. They have affirmed my call over and over again. They have pointed me to God when I find myself turned around.

So why step back if I’m so sure?

I found that the ordination process and system to not be kind.
When I consider how I and my peers function within systems, I think about our earlier generational leaders. Our grandparents repeated to us that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Our parents refused to buy things new. We grew up learning how to dismember items in order put them back together. With google we’ve learned how to tear the world around us apart in hopes that we can put it back together better than we’ve found it. Maybe this is a millennial thing, but in my formative young adult years, I’ve been told that in order to change a system, I have to be a part of it. With all of this being said, I know that in many ways I’m privileged. I have friends of which the process would not, and does not work in favor of. Though I rest, I am not finished.

In my young adulthood, I’ve been given permission to critique systems and institutions. The challenging of institutions and systems are not out of entitlement, but rather in the hope that we’re on to something. We see the hope for how it can be better. I found the ordination process to not be a positive experience, so I stayed in it- for five years. Now I’m stepping away. I need a break. I need space so I can have and find grace.

We as a people don’t know how to handle the space between grief and celebration. The moments that “Congratulations” or “I’m sorry” don’t quite cover. This is one of those moments. I’m not “excited” about my decision. But, it is also not a moment of loss that leads to an, “I’m sorry.” It has been sad and disappointing, yet a peace filled emotional and spiritual journey.

On my drive home I thought about the fields at the Farminary. How in treating the land well, it means to give it a season for rest. In the rest it does not just sit, but we’re intentional about the seeds we give to it. Seeds that restore. That bring much needed nutrients to the soil that’s been worked to its brink. It’s a “thank you for your faithfulness” and a well deserved rest from production. For me, that’s what stepping back feels like. It’s a sabbath rest for discernment.

I’m unsure why I’m just now thinking about it this way. Maybe it was a Divine inspiration? Whether or not you believe in that kind of thing, I think that’s where I’ll land today. I have worked tirelessly to prove myself as worthy the past five years. To prove that I was special enough to belong in Princeton. That I could fit in with the best-of-the-best innovators, artists, and creatives. That because of my (oh my gosh) 10 years of working in some kind of ministry- I had the stamps necessary in my “ministry ready” passport. So what what now?

I think I’ll place that passport in one of those safe places that’s so safe I may or may not forget about where it is. The truth of the matter is that I have no doubts about my call to ministry. Ordination might be cool one day. It might be fulfilling to have a community support and affirm the call that I already know and feel. It’ll be really special to share that with them if that’s what is next. But if it’s not? Well, a field lain fallow might be mistaken for a chaotic and forgotten property, but there is no doubt of the life and new creation that overcomes it. My ordination might turn in to a fallow field, but the rest of my ministry is thriving and fruitful. I am continuously thankful for the call that God has placed over my life, and that that call has lead me to doing ministry with our young people. It is a call that has no expiration date or limits. Though I have found heartbreak through boundaries, I trust that God continues to bless the sabbath and will call it holy.

Princeton Theological Seminary, MDiv/MACEF 2020 Aspiring advocate, learner, and United Methodist. she/her/hers