On the Camino, I had a deep realization as I was remembering who I was again. Part of my journey was to begin to understand that my call as a pastor in the world isn’t dependent on the system I belong to. The United Methodist Church has held me, supported me, trained me and ordained me but my ordination is more than the UMC.
As I was blessing pilgrims in a town in the middle of my Camino journey, as I walked alongside people and listened for hours, as I sat in the midst of 20 somethings searching for meaning, as I prayed with my footsteps and meditated in my aloneness, as I worshipped all over Northern Spain, it became clearer and clearer to me that I am set apart to do God’s work in the world because of my call and who I am and while the UMC has allowed me to do that in my work life, my call will be that call in the midst of that system or outside of that system. I am who God created me to be whether I am appointed or not.
This may seem pretty obvious to most of my reading audience but for me it was…..freeing. It was like I had woken up from something. Again, I still love being part of the UMC family and I mean that in so many senses. I am so Wesleyan that it hurts sometimes but it has held me in an interesting and binding way in some senses.
When I returned from the Camino, the world looked different. The church world looked different to me and my call kept leaking outside of the system in many ways as well. When Ana and I decided to take this step, this realization also allowed me to think in terms of not being afraid to be outside of the system for a bit and maybe even for longer. I am clear that I am called to keep my ordination and to serve but I am not clear on how I want to interact with the appointment system or church as we know it. My heart is dedicated to Church and I believe in Christian community, I am called to it but I think it is going to look very different very soon. That’s another blog.
I moved to Germany where it was made clear to me that I did not have a job in the UMC here. There are a couple of reasons for this but mainly, I don’t belong to this system and I don’t speak German yet (or at least to a degree to work in it). When I moved, I knew that I would walk away from my appointment in order to explore what it means to be a pastor in the world. I also felt in my core that this didn’t mean I wasn’t a pastor for this time. During this time, this means exploring theology in this place, writing about that theology and my continuous search for what the Church can be in our world.
All of this to say that part of this journey in Germany is telling people that I am a pastor but without a church here. The reactions and my own discovering of what that means has been so fascinating.
Let’s start with the visa process…..I am now a “freelancer of churches.” I submitted my paperwork which included letters of intent for me to write for churches but when I met with the bureaucracy the conversation went something like this.
Them: So you want to write for churches?
Them: You want to work for Church?
Me: Yes, that’s the idea and to write.
Them: But you don’t have a contract with a church.
Me: Right. There isn’t a spot in the UMC here for me.
Them: Well, this is highly unusual. We don’t know what to call you. Do you want to write books?
Me: Ideally…and devotionals, and worship resources, perhaps curriculum, and sermons.
Me: I have my ordination papers and my diplomas.
Them: You are educated in theology, correct?
Them: Give us a minute to brainstorm. We don’t know what to call you. We don’t want to narrow your work with churches but….we have to talk to the office of economic development.
So now I have this title that I have fallen a bit in love with. It means I can work with churches and yet not be defined by one. I am now defined by my broader work by the government.
The Church here is so linked to the State in so many ways which is different for my understanding of church where I have come from. If I list that I am a denomination, if I make more money, I get taxed more for that Church. I pay more for the State to help support Church. Weird, right? When I told the government I was a pastor, there was confusion and expanding terms.
When I tell friends here that I am a pastor, the looks range but that’s normal in my life. There is support and intrigue and a little bit of suspicion but mostly fascination.
I work in a café as a volunteer barista for a café that funnels funds into refugee work. Inevitably when I work with someone at the café, the question will come about why I came here and what do I do. When I answer pastor, the puzzled looks happen. But you don’t have a church? No, no church but I do have time now to fulfill other ways to be in ministry. When I say that I am a pastor there, there are questions and interest and intrigue.
I have preached in a pulpit here in Germany and writing a sermon from this place is unusual. Theology is contextual and what happens when the context changes so drastically and yet there needs to be a common language of God’s world. It wasn’t impossible but a great task to take on. I needed to preach from my place and connect with another’s place where church looks so different for all of us. I was preaching in a German UMC but in an English service with almost all African students. We talked a lot about finding God in a place where Church looks so different. When I talked about being a pastor, there was understanding.
I have begun attending a church and a church that helped me get my visa. They have really supported this new version of my pastoral call and yet they are not UMC. They are attached to the Lutheran Church. This has added to this process. In another twist this congregation has been excited to see how I can use my call in their space. When I say that I am a pastor there, there is excitement.
When I started language school on Thursday, we introduced one another as the first exercise and when my partner in class said that I was a pastor in churches. The room had a mix of reactions but mainly there was an audible…”oooo.” But the introduction struggled with words, understandable and then the teacher had to deconstruct and talk about words for people in churches. Throughout the rest of the class, examples of what pastors say in churches came up and she would look at me and say, “Right? You have heard it?” I smiled and shrugged at times because the reality is that I haven’t either been in many services here in German or even in this place over weekends very much while we travel. So I was a bit sheepish in this being my place and yet that space is still so unfamiliar to me. It brought up all of this stuff in me about thinking I should be exploring all of these churches and yet some freedom in not having to right now. I go when I want to and explore other places of where God shows up in this space. And I have to admit being in this place in my life, I am starting to understand why people don’t go on Sunday morning….I get why brunch becomes appealing (intimate connections with loved ones or community over food instead of looking forward in pews) and I get why spending time recovering from the week is appealing. I get when people say that they are tired of traditional liturgy and just going through the motions. I get when people say that they aren’t inspired and yes church is what you put into it but its because people don’t have the words to say, “but let us be more intentional in worship and I am tired of the same old thing.” I get it.
When I said I was a Pastor in class, there was respect and perhaps even some fascination and perhaps a little surprise.
The pastoral role will continue to evolve and transform for me here. I miss some of my pastor call here and yet I am exploring on such different levels in a space where it isn’t necessarily my usual context. When we are outside of ourselves, we can see so much more. So it is for now.