Happy Ordiversary, September-ordained friends! It’s a time for new beginnings in many northern-hemisphere churches, so what a great time for ordinations. (okay, anytime is a good time for an ordination, and for a party!) We celebrate your ministry, whether it’s been one year or forty since that first step! Today I’m so excited that the party is starting with RevGal Jeanne Gay giving us a glimpse into her ministry and life!
Tell us a bit about your journey into ministry.
Right out of college, I married a man (divorced 12 years later) who was headed toward seminary and then ministry. He was a brilliant preacher, but the committee work and politics of the local church just about did him in. His experience made me say, any time someone would suggest over the next few decades that I become a minister, “Oh, no. I know that job. No, no, no!”
Looking back, I recognize that I didn’t ever want to “compete” with my ex-husband, and I also didn’t think I was faithful or pious enough to be a pastor. I kept finding more and more ways to be active in my church, though, and then in the presbytery.
And then in March of 2004 I heard a new pastor in the presbytery tell his story of being called to ministry despite not having been active in his church at all, and suddenly the doors of my mind were opened to a call God had probably been issuing for years. I checked this new understanding with just about everyone I knew, and was widely affirmed in a call. (That ex-husband said, “Jeanne, that’s perfect!”) And in August of that year, at the age of 51, I began work toward an MDiv.
What’s something you remember about your ordination?
I was ordained on September 13, 2009 at Grace Presbyterian Church in Jenkintown, PA. There is no photographic evidence of this event, and the presbytery moderator spelled my name wrong on the certificate, but I can attest to its having been real because I remember clearly the weight of the hands on my head and shoulders as the assembled laid hands on me. I wondered if I’d be able to remain erect. I remember thinking how prophetic this weight was, as I knew I would encounter the weight of ministry threatening to bow me down but also serving to remind me of all who held me and my ministry in love.
As someone who has moved between settled/installed ministry and interim ministry throughout your career, what can you say about the differences between the two?
So much is the same, of course, but I think one of the main differences lies in the pastor’s relationship to the call. Not necessarily to the people but to the purpose of the call.
When I have begun an installed/settled position, my first intent is to come to love the people. It’s all about building relationships—becoming one with them. When I have begun an interim position, though, my first intent is to figure out this congregation, because I know I won’t be there all that long. I need to assess their leadership, their culture, their peculiarities … and then I need to figure out how to help them become the strongest congregation possible before moving on. I will come to love many of them, but we will almost certainly not have the deeply intimate relationships that are possible in a ministry of many years.
How do you take care of yourself through so much transition?
Three of my interim positions were in the same presbytery (Baltimore, U.S.), and close enough that I could stay in the same house for the whole 4½ years I was there. That was enormously helpful—no matter what else was going on in my life, at night I came home to the same house.
My biggest challenge in ministry, when it comes to self-care, is finding community, and I’m convinced that that difficulty is exacerbated for interim pastors, and certainly for single interim pastors. When I left Baltimore, I told people that I had gotten to know a whole lot of Presbyterians—and my hairdresser.
I’m now living close to my daughter and her family. I chose to move here because of them, figuring that sooner or later I’d find a church position in the new location (which I did), rather than seeking a call somewhere I’d need to start from scratch in developing community.
What advice would you give those being ordained this month?
Oh, may you be lifted up, enriched and blessed by this wonderful calling!
Recognize that there will always be people who don’t like what you have to say, don’t like who you are, don’t like how you wear your hair … Listen for the small kernel of truth in their criticism, and then blow the rest away like so much fluff.
Remember that your calling is from God, not from the church, even though it will most likely be lived out in the church. We are called to follow God, not God’s sheep.
Keep reading, keep learning—keep growing in new relationships. Keep looking for new ways to understand and relate to the Holy One. Find ways to have fun, to be silly (a word that originally meant “blessed”), to be creative, and to take long naps.
Remember that all this is supposed to be life-giving, not death-dealing, and if it’s not right for you, it’s okay to say so and to take action to make it better.
Thank you, Jeanne! Happy ordiversary, and keep up the good work! You are a gift to the church and to us all.
How about you, other September-ordiversaries? How do you take care of yourself? What was your ordination like? What advice would you give? Let us know in the comments!
Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland, where she ministers to a fantastic congregation in the most beautiful place, and lives in perhaps the nation’s best manse with the best view and two Somali cats who are absolutely hilarious. She is the liturgy writer for the BibleWorm podcast, blogs (very) occasionally at CleverTitleHere, co-authored the book Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation, and serves on the RevGalBlogPals board.
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