I (Teri, your ordiversary party host), have just spent a day at a garden party at a royal palace. So I am 100% in a partying mood, and excited to get this month’s ordiversary party started! This month the party kicks off with Patty, a long time Australian RevGal whom you might know better as “Pearl Down Under.” Without further ado, her great story and even better advice!
Even though I grew up in a family where church was not part of our life, I wondered about God and what it meant to be living in a Christian country. When I was about 14 years old, my family moved to a new house and I went to Sunday School most weeks with my next-door neighbour, a girl the same age as me. I always felt like I was behind everyone else in my faith because my family wasn’t part of a church.
As an older teen and young adult faith became real to me, but my future work was going to be in science or engineering. I transferred from a Science degree to Chemical Engineering and worked in the research department of a large mining and chemical company.
Fast forward to when I was 26 years old, married and living 8 hours away from family in a small country town. We were trying to start a family, but I wasn’t getting pregnant. I prayed about it, asking God what my life was going to be about if I didn’t have children. The answer was Ordained Ministry. For a variety of reasons which were mainly ‘God, that is not possible’, it was 16 years before I went to theological college. During that time, I found out what prior studies I would need, completed a Bachelor of Arts, became a lay Preacher, was involved in many aspects of the life of the Church – local, regional, state and national. Each new involvement was a way for me to ignore the Call to ordained Ministry.
In the Uniting Church we have a process called ‘Period of Discernment’, during this 6-12+ month process, you meet with a mentor, engage in some study and reflect on the ministry you are involved in. It is intentionally listening for where God is calling you. Life was comfortable, we had good friends in the area, I was involved in the life of the church, the ministers were encouraging of me and at one time asked if I wanted to come to their team meeting – of course I said no, I wasn’t a minister and wasn’t going to be one.
During the Period of Discernment, it was more and more obvious I was being called to ordained ministry. I went through the application process and was accepted into the Candidate phase, which meant a Master of Divinity, formation, practical training such as weddings and funerals and field education placements.
During my time at Theological College, I went from expecting to be told the church had made a mistake in accepting me as a Candidate, to thinking God had made a mistake, to accepting that this was real. Three months into my first placement, I realised how normal ministry felt and no-one had asked me to explain perichoresis or the eschaton.
I began my first placement in Engadine, a suburb of Sydney, in July 2006 and was ordained on 21st July 2007 in my home church in Dubbo, NSW. This was the church my husband and I had attended for 10 years before I went to college, where I was loved and encouraged and challenged to consider ordained Ministry.
What I remember most is people from all parts of our lives being there, people from my home Congregation, people from College, friends and lots of people from Engadine. Both of my parents died before I was ordained, but my father’s eldest brother and his wife came to my ordination. This Uncle and Aunt are atheists, but they thought it was important that someone be there from my family. They had a wonderful time meeting our friends and one of the lecturers from College who came to my ordination.
What have been the unexpected joys and challenges of serving multi-point parishes?
It is easy for me to think about the challenges. Sunday morning leading two identical worship services with not a lot of time in between in two places a five-minute drive apart. I am fortunate that for most things in the life of the parish, the 2 congregations work together, so only one Church Council [governing body], one budget etc. Also, much of the ministry is done together, such as playgroup.
The thing that bugs me the most are the parochialism of some people. At the moment we are in the middle of 8 weeks of combined Sunday morning services, most with guest speakers. Combined services always mean lower attendance. Some people won’t go to worship in ‘the other’ building. There are also two property committees, one for each set of buildings.
The joys, that is harder to think of, for me the joy is seeing the two groups work together and worship together, and the people who get we are one Parish.
What do you do to keep yourself sane, happy, and fulfilled in ministry?
Supervision from a professional supervisor each month. This is my second professional supervisor, and both have been very good at encouraging me to recognise and accept my giftedness not just weaknesses.
After feeling like leaving ministry about 18 months ago, I now also meet each month with a Spiritual Director. I realised part of the crisis was not looking after my own spiritual life.
Attending retreats, meeting regularly with denominational colleagues for lunch and support.
Being involved in the church beyond the Parish.
What advice would you give people being ordained this month?
Ministry is a marathon not a sprint, while you will see lots of possibilities in a Congregation or placement, it won’t all happen this month or even this year.
One thing I remember from first year at college is ‘love the people given to your care’, not always easy, you don’t have to like them, you do need to love them.
Be a reflective person, not every problem that you are blamed for is your fault. Learn what you can from the complaints, then leave it. Other people have bad days too, don’t let them pass that onto you.
Keep a box of thank you notes and emails, because some days you will wonder why you do this.
Have at least one person who is there just for you, such as a supervisor or spiritual director, or both. Don’t rely on your family or congregation to be your sounding board.
Look for the joys in ministry, what is life giving to you; celebrate as much as you can, look for the signs of the Spirit moving in the Congregation and individuals.
Now it’s your turn—are you celebrating an ordiversary this month? What do you do to stay sane in ministry? What unexpected joys and challenges have you found? What advice would you give newbies?
Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland. She lives along the beautiful Firth of Clyde, but spent Wednesday on the other side of the country at Holyrood Palace wearing an amazing “hatinator,” sipping tea, chatting to strangers, and trying to get a glimpse of the Queen, because sometimes ministry is awesome. She is co-author of Who’s Got Time: spirituality for a busy generation, a board member of RevGalBlogPals, and a contributor to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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