Happy Ordiversary!! This month’s party is being kicked off by Original RevGal Kathryn Zucker Johnston, whose late night emails with friends became the 11th Hour Preacher Party. She serves as Head of Staff at a PC(USA) church in Pennsylvania, and she is well known among longtime RevGals for her pithy sayings that offer wisdom we didn’t even know we needed to hear.
Tell us a bit about your journey into ministry.
This is a major non-story actually. I grew up and was very active in the Presbyterian Church (eventually the PCUSA) and I always felt loved and welcomed there. When it was time to figure out what came after high school, I figured I’d go into Youth Ministry because then you get to go on the ski trips for free! After serving in Youth Ministry after graduating from college, I felt Called to go to seminary and pursue ordination.
I was ordained in Winter Haven, Florida in the church (First Presbyterian) and Presbytery (Tampa Bay) that had “sponsored me” in September of 2001. I was living in Pennsylvania, and my second day in the office of my solo pastorate was on September 11, 2001. I remember having to make phone calls and saying things like, “I know there are far more important things going on, but if I don’t get ordained I can’t serve in this Call… are you able to be part of the commission?”
For a few years now you’ve been part of a clergy couple—what’s that been like? How has it affected your ministry, how have y’all managed both calls, etc?
Being a part of a clergy couple has been an absolute win-win for me. Martha is so wise about what it takes to do ministry – practically, spiritually, theologically – so I basically have a live-in clergy coach. She’s great about only offering if I ask, and we enjoy working on classes and sermons together. This summer we even preached together and that was so much fun! Our biggest challenge is when she has a Call that takes her away on Sunday mornings. We both really like to worship together, even if one of us is in the pew and the other is in the pulpit. My ministry has definitely benefitted from us being together, but I am very aware that she has sacrificed some of the things she could do in ministry so that I could have the Head of Staff Call.
You’ve served really different churches in your ministry so far — what would you say have been the gifts of being in those different contexts? (Small / big, bigger/smaller populations, styles, etc)
Being a solo pastor right out of the seminary gate was the smartest thing I could have done. I immediately was thrown into the challenge of preaching and worship leadership every week (the relentless return of Sunday) and learned very quickly that book-learning meant nothing if the people didn’t trust your heart. That has remained the truth regardless of the size of the congregation. That solo pastorate gave me the gift of patience (I mean, I’ve looked back at some of those sermons – yikes!) and the confidence to know I could handle a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that they just don’t teach you during your 15 credits of Church History in seminary! Also, people are people – regardless of church size you’re going to be dealing with the same personalities for better or worse.
What advice would you give to people being ordained this month?
The congregation is never going to tell you that you’ve worked enough this week, go home. You have to do it. There is no special reward for putting in 60-80 hour weeks (this is advice I’m currently not using so feel free to use it).
Don’t sacrifice your family on the altar of the perfect sermon.
Don’t send that email until you’ve slept on it overnight.
Breathe deep and pray daily. Seriously… no, I mean it.
Thanks Kathryn! Wise and eloquent, as always. And thanks for years of friendship and advice too—I’m glad to celebrate your ordiversary with you, and to have you in this amazing community of RevGals.
How about you, September-ordained friends? What memories, stories, or advice do you have?
Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland. She lives along the beautiful Firth of Clyde, and serves a fantastic church in a gorgeous community. She is co-author of Who’s Got Time: spirituality for a busy generationWho’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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