Saturday, May 31, 2008

agency vs. parish placement

My previous two summer field ed placements have been parish placements in rural towns of North Carolina, so this summer is the first time I have served in an agency placement outside of the church since I worked with Confrontation Point Ministries (Crossville, TN) during undergrad. Going into this summer I can say that I have definitely felt called to and led to serve in this area of ministry to those who face terminal illness and the end of their life due to my involvement of working at ICEOL this past school year which led to a growing desire to be ministry to/with the sick in a hands-on way. The part of ministry I missed over the past school year working with ICEOL was that my time was spent in an office where my work affected the training of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, ect who would in turn work with the sick, but not getting to be with sick myself, not getting to hear their stories, hold their hand and journey with them. I was very excited that my field ed placement for the summer worked out so that I could continue my work with ICEOL, but also that a majority of my time would be with Duke Hospice (on the front lines, so to say) journeying and being with people.

As I sat in field ed orientation, watching my friends and classmates get pumped for their parish field ed placements (I'd say over 90% of students are in parish placements), I began to wonder if I would miss being in a parish placement this summer, as I had the previous two summers. Would I miss preaching? Would I miss leading worship? Would I miss assisting with communion? Would I miss being involved with ordering the life of the church? These questions began to swarm around my head as I sat in Goodson Chapel for orientation and carried with me as I prepared for my own field ed placement. Since I first identified God's calling on my life for ministry I come back to the question of parish ministry time and time again, and over and over again I have "decided," possibly convincing myself, that God is not calling me to parish ministry, to pastor a church. Why does this question continue to surface time and time again so that I have to wonder if I really am running away from parish ministry.

It is amazing how God really does talk to us when we take time to listen, and by listen I mean really listening. I am still struck at how although I consider myself more comfortable with silence than most that I still do a good job of filling my life with noise and distraction leaving little to no time of real silence for meditation and reflection. I recall my time with CP and going caving where we got to the devo spot deep in the cave, sat in a circle, turned out our lights and sat in silence. The ringing in our ears showed us how weird it was to have the absence of noise, noises we pay little attention to but saturate our lives, and it seemed almost as if our ears were straining to hear some noise because they were so used to being bombarded. The first week of field ed I spent a lot of time alone because my roommate is gone for her summer placement and many of my friends from school are dispersed across the country (and world) or were out of town, so I was left to actually face my own thoughts and questions.

I think I am realizing how much I miss being in a parish placement this summer, and while I do feel called to be in the placement I am this summer, that my heart may in fact be for parish ministry. One evening that first week I was struck clearly as to the reason if I am in fact running away from being a pastor. It is simply because I am scared. Being the pastor of a church is scary, especially as a young single female pastor. I catch myself every so often desiring to live in a rural area and my heart is definitely for the smaller churches (no mega churches for me please!) and while pastoring a small rural church doesn't sound very exciting for some it sounds like a wonderful life to me (despite the many challenges). This passion for the rural church is a major part of the reason for my transfer in membership to the Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC. Obviously these are questions I will probably continue to discern for the rest of the summer, and even for my lifetime, but I do hope and pray God will continue to shed light upon my questions as to where He will lead me next. I covet your prayers as I discern a calling to parish ministry following graduation from seminary.

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