first year in the books!

I started my second appointment year as a pastor in the United Methodist Church yesterday. It feels appropriate to mark the moment. Got me thinking about what I’ve learned in my first year of full-time ministry.

Teamwork is worth it
I’m so blessed to have spent my first year with a supportive and dynamic senior pastor and a wonderful office administrator. We enjoy checking in on each other, bouncing ideas around, laughing, asking the hard questions and doing our best to make a difference in the kingdom of God. I couldn’t have asked for a better first year environment to learn and grow as a pastor.

We are all missionaries
I may be serving in an official missionary conference but in today’s culture, we are all missionaries. It took me about seven months here before I realized this. Things that worked in Ohio didn’t work here. Some of the language I used to describe God and faith didn’t always make sense. It was a freeing and exciting once I realized I couldn’t assume anything. All I could do was meet people where they were.

Pace of ministry
I still don’t know quite how to describe it but ministry in the context of Alaska has enabled me to experience a rhythm with God that is life-changing. In previous contexts, I felt the anxious pace to grow ministries, make a difference and love people. It’s not really a bad thing. But it was the pace that was slowly killing me. I knew I couldn’t keep it up. At least not in the same way that I was.

I can see now that I have so much still to learn. This year I’m learning that when I trust the Holy Spirit, I can still work really hard but it doesn’t produce anxiety. There’s also great freedom in turning my brain off from ministry tasks. I don’t ever disconnect from God (at least I try not to!), but I am able to turn my ministry brain off when it’s time to simply be and enjoy life. God didn’t create us to be human doings, God created us to be human beings. I consider this a priority as I draw closer to God and others.

Predictability
Most of us want some level of predictability. To know what’s coming. To be prepared. There are some seasons of ministry that I can schedule, organize and arrange. I love getting up in the morning and knowing what’s on my agenda. But I came to also appreciate the phone calls, emails and visits that threw the day completely off. It was a great reminder that God calls deeply to me when I’m out of my routine.

UMC Connection
As a pastor’s kid, I’ve had a unique vantage point of the United Methodist connection. There’s this actual organization and Spirit-led connection between all United Methodist churches, pastors and laity. We know we’re not in this alone. I felt the connection in such a tangible way this past year. My UM church in Ohio helped raise funds for a new campus ministry at UAA in Anchorage. I emailed with colleagues in Alaska about ideas and joint projects. I had a lunch group in town that met twice a month. I loved traveling to Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka in April to get footage for a conference video project. Since we’re pretty spread out in Alaska, we’re almost forced to reach out to each other and I love it. When I think of a project for my local churches, I almost immediately wonder if we could partner up with a nearby church or borrow curriculum from someone across the state. What a gift our connection has been this year.

Pastoral Identity
I can tell it will take me awhile to fully accept the role of pastor. This year it has meant wearing a robe when it felt kind of awkward. I’m still so new to this. It meant blessing skunks and dogs, baptizing an infant, praying at a funeral and smiling as I pronounced a couple husband and wife. It also meant I was usually called on to pray if I was in the room. I struggled with this at first. I feel it’s one of my roles as pastor to coach and empower all people to explore their relationship with God and become more comfortable talking and listening with God. So yes, I’ve had lots of practice and deeply enjoy communicating with God but I get great joy listening to the prayers of all ages. I don’t mind so much anymore being asked to pray. I understand people expect that from their pastor. But I will continue to encourage others to work on their communication with God as well.

I’m sure there was more. But that’s all I’ve got for now. 🙂 Here’s to a fantastic first year full of lessons and joy. I’m still so thankful to have felt called to this profession. I imagine I’ll continue to learn what it means for the rest of my life. Here’s to a great second year!

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