After a couple weeks full of Bethany Fellow retreat memories showing up on my social media, my calendar reminded me last Saturday, September 29th, that it has been four years since I got my first tattoo.
It's also been four years since I became a Bethany Fellow alum and said goodbye to the rhythm of retreat and community that lasted for eight retreats over four years. It does not seem like it has been over for as long as it lasted. But than again, time has moved strangely the last few years.
Bethany Fellows is a blessing for young clergy, but it is also a finite experience. It is built that way on purpose. As I walked away from that community, I carried with me knowledge, relationships, and hope. I held close the truths that had been told and prayers that had been said.
And because it is easy for me to forget or dismiss the affirmative truths others name for me, I decided they deserved a permanent place in my life. A reminder that I can hold on to even when the Bethany community and Bethany Way feel far away.
I finalized my tattoo idea before I left for that last retreat. Doodles based on sabbatical wisdom shared by our director Kim at a previous retreat started with four circles as a modified quatrefoil. Coloring in the overlapping ovals, I found a butterfly. I am a person changed by this experience.
It took a few tries to settle on the words. To narrow down those things I truly wanted to carry forward with me. But when I found them, I knew.
I am called. I am beloved. I am wise. I am brave.
I am called beloved, wise, and brave.
I am thankful for the me four years ago who decided to carry these truths so permanently with her. Because, honestly, they are truths that I have found myself doubting. Especially one, especially recently.
I have found myself asking: Am I really called? Because years in search and call without being called makes a person wonder.
I've lost count of the churches who have been sent my profile. How many zoom interviews I've had. How many weeks have been spent waiting for the slow wheels of church administration and decision making to turn. The number of times I held tight to hope and the times when I asked others to hold it for me because it slipped out of my fingers.
I've lost count of the conversations with friends, colleagues, regional and conference ministers. Conversations full of disbelief, empathy, and sometimes anger that I was second choice or not asked to interview, or just not the right fit for another church. I've lost count of conversations with acquaintances and others who have told me "God is preparing a place for you. Be patient." I've lost count of the times I've said "I trust God, but I don't always trust God's people to be listening."
I've lost count of the times I've wondered if the problem was my sexuality or an assumption of inexperience because my only ministry title so far has been "Associate Minister."
I've lost count of the times I have felt anger building in response to yet another conversation about clergy shortages.
I do have a count (3, at least) of rejections that turned out for the best.
It has been a year and a half of not serving a congregation. It's been longer than that of putting myself out there, hoping for a place where my ministry can grow and flourish and I can bring my authentic self into my ministry.
And despite stories of colleagues mistreated, abused, and torn down by congregations. Stories shared in Bethany Fellow circles and outside of them...
Despite stories of friends who came to regret saying yes to a church and others who have left ministry all together...
Despite it all, I know I am called to congregational ministry.
In all it's messiness.
In all the fear of how the church is changing.
In all the "other duties as assigned."
But it is hard to live into that knowledge when the majority of Disciples congregations are still not ready to consider a queer pastor. And at least one has no interest in a clergy woman.
I am trying to hold on to this call. To believe those around me today who still see and name it. Those who saw it and named it for four years of Bethany Fellow retreats and for the years of seminary and ordination preparation before that. But today, this week, this month, it is a struggle. And recent experiences have worn me down. The lies my depression tells me are hard to tune out, though I try to turn the volume down whenever I can.
Until a congregation calls, I am trying to find other ways to do ministry. It has looked like being an on call hospital chaplain (even if the actual calls are few and far between, I am able to help ease the burden of the full time chaplain). Ministry has looked like providing pulpit supply and writing liturgy for special occasions for colleagues. Most recently, ministry looked like serving as a stewardship consultant for a local congregation and helping them launch their first stewardship campaign in decades.
My call feels so sure and so delicate right now. My mental health and my spirit are worn down. It is hard not doing the thing you most want to do.
Today my prayer is that God indeed is preparing a place for me to serve authentically and fully. Where I will be able to share my gifts, my questions, my wisdom and my bravery so that a community might know they too are called and beloved. And I pray the way is made clear. I pray for whatever church(es) I will find myself a part of in the future - whether in the pulpit or in the pews.
And I pray a prayer of gratitude for this holy reminder of community, of affirmation, of the need for rest and care that I carry with me on my chest. Past me believed, even if it is a struggle for current me.