today is my last day as a congregational minister with belair uniting church, and i'm trying to decide how i feel.
it is a loss, a grieving - i will miss these folk who have become so dear, with whom i have shared life from a very privileged position. the role of a minister in a community of faith is one of privilege - in the way of profound gift. people share their stories with you; their hopes, dreams, fears, doubts. you are a safe person, a trusted person, with whom people make themselves vulnerable, and who expect of you the same openness and vulnerability. you are 'theirs' and they are 'yours'. through our goodbyes, i heard, 'i am here because of you', 'i will miss you,' i have been so grateful for our conversations', 'can i buy you coffee to say thank you', 'i am sad you won't be our minister any more', 'you have taught me so much, changed my thinking'.
in some ways, i think the church is not entirely sure what the place of ordained ministers is in this time in which we live, or what it might be in the near future. belair understands. their lay leaders are capable, wise, present, caring, strong together. in many ways, they don't really need a minister. but they appreciate the presence of an ordained minister, i think, for the way a minister is steeped in the tradition of the church and the depth of the story; for the symbolic reminder a minister is of the way of God we are all called to live; as something of an anchor, or a rudder, depending on the need of the moment - to ground the community in God, or to guide them with a firm and confident hand; as one who is connected to the wider church, and helps them to be so connected also; as a servant of Christ, calling each member and community together to be Christ in the world.
so it is an important, valued role in the community of faith, we come to know each other very well, and to rely on each other in a relationship of mutuality - you knew i'd mention that at some point - and as this relationship ends, we are sad.
for this season at belair, their minister didn't shake hands with the folk after our weekly gathered worship - i gave hugs. and some folk were very upset if they didn't get their weekly hug! before worship, if you got there early enough, you might even get an extra one, as i wandered up and down the aisle, greeting folk as they arrived. this welcome was for me a grounding amidst the community for whose worship i was presiding - it was for the people another precious moment with their part time minister; a moment of connection, relationship, care.
for this season at belair, their minister went into the spaces of the young ones, for i was their minister, and belair values the dignity and worth and contribution of each person. oh the conversations we had over supper at the annual bush dance, on the bush walk at church camp, on a sunday morning - where is God, how would we like to worship, what's going to happen in the next series of Dr Who? oh the fun we had sending our minister up to play a silly game at camp out, putting together christmas plays, playing our musical instruments together, playing soccer and dressing ourselves up in newspaper outfits for sarah's next liturgical garment design at church camp.
for me and for them.
for me, i go now into a season of learning and reflection on my practice as a storyteller; this season is long-anticipated, i've worked hard for the opportunity, and i know it is another step towards a shape of ministry that is perhaps not entirely new, but is renewing of an ancient form, and could be renewing for my church.
for them, i hope we have told their story well together, so that they have heard it from each other, heard who they say they are, how they sense God calling them to live into that story. i have hope that we have revitalised their commitment to being Christ in the world, and their confidence in the unique way this embodiment of the body of Christ will live faithfully into that identity.
during the three and a half years at belair, my first years as an ordained minister, i settled into my sense of identity and vocation as storyteller, poet, minister. i learnt how to be an ordained minister. i gave time, separately, to the storyteller, the poet, the minister - and then, with grace, patience, and welcome, my congregation encouraged me to integrate these three. i found the ways to bring the storyteller and the poet into my role as minister in a congregation - shaping the story for christmas eve and the candle lighting liturgy for advent, to accompany our tapestry figurines. i took the minister out with me into the world as a storyteller, presiding in a way as the concluding speaker at tedxadelaide as i told a story of grace, and crafting a liturgy of healing for an arts space responding to experiences of depression and anxiety. i am not the person i was when i began this season; i am more deeply and confidently the person i knew i was becoming.
overall, overwhelmingly, i am so, so grateful for this season with belair.
i suspect it will be the only time i am in a placement as a congregational minister, at least in the established, traditional mode of congregational ministry. and i got oh so lucky to be placed with a strong, vital, healthy congregation.
one that welcomes the stranger, with grace and humility to say, stay and find your home here - or if this is not home for you, go with our blessing, we wish you well.
one that values the young ones as vital members of the family, receiving their gifts of leading, energy, vision, creativity and wisdom with openness and gratitude.
one that values the older ones and their experience, creativity, presence, wisdom, and cares for them in their particular season of need. one that values all the folk in between, finds ways for each to take their seat at the table - those who are not wanting to gather for worship, but are ready to participate in community; those who like the story of Jesus, but are not seeking to claim Christian spirituality as their path; those whose current season sees them elsewhere on sundays when we gather, but will gather with us when they can.
one that welcomes a part time minister whose other 'half time' brings little money, so they go the extra mile to support her; that understands the role of an ordained minister in their midst to work together, to guide and facilitate and take the lead from time to time, and meets her with respect and care and the mutuality she preaches from time to time.
one that welcomes the wider community into its home - the music lessons of a weekday afternoon or evening, the relationship with hills choral society (and their annual gift of carols during advent), playgroup, treasure markets, the men's shed in partnership with blackwood uniting. we have willingly and generously made changes to our building, our home, in order to welcome our community to share this gift we have received from our ancestors.
this welcome is radical, humble, self-confident and very much like the welcome of Wisdom herself.
yes, overall, overwhelmingly, i am grateful for this season, for this community, for these people; i am grateful to the Spirit who brought us together, who i discovered every day i spent as minister at belair.