Reflections on the Pickle of Parish Ministry for the New Associate Rector

From my first day in the office, the rector and the rest of my colleagues on the staff teased me about my growing list of “things I didn’t learn in seminary.” The list mostly included small practicalities—how to fix a paper jam, how to lock the big Narthex doors, and why one should never schedule a parish event on a Nebraska Cornhuskers game day (turns out, nobody will show up). Truthfully, however, I don’t think that any seminary could have ever fully prepared me for the day-to-day life of parish ministry.

~ The Rev. Elizabeth Easton, CDSP 2009

 

Liz Easton

The Rev. Elizabeth Easton

When I graduated from CDSP in May 2009, I joked that the commencement ceremony was just long enough for me to experience all five stages of grief in one sitting. There was the denial, of course (I don’t believe this is really over…), the anger (this is getting really, really long…), the bargaining (maybe I’ll come back soon for a DMin…), the sadness (I am going to miss these people so much!), and finally, the acceptance (my time here is really finished…). By the time that the dismissal was pronounced, hugs were shared, and bubbles were blown in St. Margaret’s Courtyard, I was emotionally on my way to Nebraska, where I was to begin my first ordained position at a large Episcopal parish in Omaha.

 

I began my ministry as Associate Rector at All Saints Episcopal Church on August 1st. From my first day in the office, the rector and the rest of my colleagues on the staff teased me about my growing list of “things I didn’t learn in seminary.” The list mostly included small practicalities—how to fix a paper jam, how to lock the big Narthex doors, and why one should never schedule a parish event on a Nebraska Cornhuskers game day (turns out, nobody will show up). Truthfully, however, I don’t think that any seminary could have ever fully prepared me for the day-to-day life of parish ministry. Long gone are the days of the simple country parson who sits in his office and reads theological journals while tinkering on his sermon (I’m not sure that day ever existed, actually). And in case you didn’t know, the whole Mitford series is a complete fantasy. Parish ministry is way faster paced than I ever imagined—a surprising reality that delights me with its challenges and small celebrations every single day.

 

All Saints Episcopal Church, Omaha, NE

All Saints Episcopal Church, Omaha, NE

While I struggled to remember the code to the office door and to locate the funky smell that greeted me in my office each morning (no seminary class could prepare me for that), I realized more and more every day how CDSP did prepare me for the big picture of my ministry.

 

A friend of mine once said that seminary is like the pickling process: When it’s all over, you can never be a cucumber again. I think that this is actually a good metaphor for what some theologians might call ontological change (bear with me here). We begin seminary because our communities have called us to explore a particular ministry. Like a cucumber that it is selected because it might make a good pickle, we begin a process of transformation where we are immersed in our tradition—in the life of prayer and discipleship—and where we submit to the Holy Spirit as She works through the Church. In a sense, we live for three years in the “brine” of Anglicanism, absorbing—sometimes subconsciously—that which is all around us. When we are finished, we are still ourselves, but we are also distinctly different. The things that we learned and experienced have changed us, and the lessons of our formation have pickled us through and through. Even though I never learned the first thing about fixing paper jams in seminary, I did learn what it means—deep in my bones—to minister professionally in God’s Church.

Perhaps the thing that I learned most—the strongest spice in the brine, to continue the metaphor—was the importance of the pastor as constant catechist. Every class that I took at CDSP pushed the idea that as professional ministers (whether lay or ordained), we must help those in our communities through the process of creating a theology that takes them beyond the church doors and into their everyday lives. The priest/minister does not tell, she shows—shows the community how to think theologically about their jobs, their relationships, and their faiths. With every conversation that I have in my parish—at coffee hour and in committee meetings—I hear the voices of my professors and feel their hands on my shoulder, urging and directing me to teach in every moment. The positive pressure to be a teacher in my community brings with it a drive to learn. Again, I hear the voices of my professors: Never stop being a student; Continuing education is a lifelong vocation and a daily commitment that must never go away.

Having arrived at the fifth and final stage of grieving the end of my seminary career, I realize that acceptance is not an end in itself. Although my time at seminary is most certainly over, I travel with the voices of my professors and mentors constantly whispering in my ears. I hope that they never go away. I could not have picked a better pickling operation than CDSP, where my transition to a different kind of cucumber felt gentle but complete, spicy and delicious. Okay, maybe the metaphor only extends so far…

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One Comment on “Reflections on the Pickle of Parish Ministry for the New Associate Rector”

  1. Britt Says:

    Very enlightening and well written. “At home in Mitford” is a great fantasy 🙂 Best wishes to you.


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