We were on a road trip, and we started a conversation with the Wendy’s employee who had just taken our order. With no people in line and an almost empty restaurant, she seemed happy to chat with us.
“I’m studying to be an LVN,” she enthusiastically proclaimed. A first-career medical technologist myself, I was interested in hearing more about her studies to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
“Where are you going to school?” She named a small college in a Texas town where she lives — a town that is 30 miles from the Wendy’s where she works. Every shift she works, she commutes 30 miles each way to her job. At Wendy’s.
She was not complaining. Indeed, she was so enthusiastic about her future, I had to ask, “When will you be finished?”
“It’s supposed to be a three semester program, if you go full time, but . . .” she paused, leaving unspoken the reality of a low-paying job, high tuition costs and a time-consuming, expensive commute. What about study? Or sleep? “I can take the test in she another two years, I hope.”
In an article about the pastoral being political, I want to launch into the political sources of her unfairly challenging journey. What if:
- Minimum wage workers made a living wage. (At Wendy’s: 9.00/hr)
- College tuition was free.
- People of color — indeed, all people — participated fully in economic growth and personal prosperity.
We pastors do have a divine call — and a command that saturates scripture — to address the political. Jesus involved himself with the people, structures and policies that affected the well-being of persons and communities. Therefore, so do we.
But one day, a future LVN inspired me to remember something about my own calling., something that is very specifically pastoral in the midst of the political.
Our God is a “calling all people” calling God. From Adam and Eve, to Moses, Abraham, Sarah, the “12 disciples,”the Apostle Paul — the stories of our faith are of God interrupting a human agenda with a God agenda. The call: “Go” where God is going; partner with God in “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s expectation is that we will respond in word — “yes” — and action — “go.”
There are many people working for justice — and we pastors are appropriately there, too. But who else but us pastors will proclaim the good news of the reason for our justice work?
Healthy lives are able to fulfill divine purposes.
Safe lives can relax into dreaming God’s dreams.
Justice-infused systems enable more people to become LVNs — or whatever their vocation — sooner and better prepared.
We pastors are uniquely in a profession where God’s call is publicly acknowledged and celebrated. Whether a fumbling statement at church camp — a confident profession in a church service — or a long, arduous “kicking and screaming” journey shared only with friends — we articulate God’s call with other students, teachers, councils, committees, colleagues.
Remaining in professional church leadership means that we check in with God’s call frequently. We answer again and again God’s ever-shifting call. And we fulfill that call in countless ways — daily. And then, of course, we proclaim God’s call to good news ministry, from the pulpit and from the streets.
There are a some opportunities for pastors and churches to more effectively model that we are about God’s business, not just good business.
- Can we stop using the phrase — and the strategy of — “filling slots” when forming church committees? Can we use better, more spirit-inspired language and processes to indicate that God is doing the calling?
- How can we illuminate the good news that God is calling everyone to be more diligent and outspoken about answering God’s call in daily life?
- When a pastor’s call changes — or when a professional church leader’s call is not easily defined by current structures and policies — can we lift up what God might be re-creating?
Easy for me to ask! I am no longer in a congregation as a professional church leader. A year ago, I retired from pastoral ministry after almost 25 years. The reason: When it came time to be open to the next thing, I wanted to go on church pastoring. But that divine spark was not there. Simply put: God wasn’t calling me.
Many good teachers have guided my way. Today, I give thanks for a future LVN at Wendy’s who, at a critical time in my own life and ministry, let her light shine, revealing God’s good work.
May our work for justice co-create with God a world where it is never a luxury for the few — but everyone’s “business as usual” — to be about God-inspired work that lights up the world.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor living in Austin, TX. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.
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