A true call — that which is a true reflection of one’s vocation which Frederick Buechner so well surmised to be the “place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” — must be a call where the totality of your deep gladness reverberates.
As much as I can say this, it’s hard to know what this means. It’s a line that appeared in the letter that I sent last week to a congregation who was ready and willing to call me as their next pastor but I had to say no. I had to say no because that reverberation just wasn’t there. I didn’t feel it. I wasn’t connected to it and I really didn’t want to be taking a job just to have a job.
Because a true call is much more than a job. I have loved each and every church that I have served but my place in ministry in those communities never expressed the totality of my call. I’m not sure there is any one place that could ever speak to that possibility. For it has never been one place or one people but so many places and so many people.
My call has always included a call to family and a call to friendship — and now, it includes still another call. Now, I find myself answering the call to be a partner in marriage. We are only just engaged but we’ve moved across the country so that there is some part of me that already feels the weight of the vows to keep my promise to him in sickness and in health, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, as long as we both shall live. To live into both my ordination vows and the promise of this relationship means that I sometimes I have to say no.
I had to say no this time. Maybe because I’m new at this and a little too overprotective of our relationship and its success. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But, this is the first time that I’ve had to make such a choice. It’s the first time I’ve had to consider how a job might impact my relationship — and I had to say no for the sake of my relationship. Because this time, it felt like I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t be the pastor I wanted to be and still be the partner that my deep gladness requires.
Saying no has sent me back to the United Church of Christ’s Ordained Minister’s Code and the Marks of Faithful and Effective Ministry for some language about how that whole call might reverberate within my soul. It has made me wonder about all of the places that I hear the echoes of call. Those places of deep gladness I find in writing, in social justice and in community. That deep gladness that surprises and delights me in answering the call to preach and teach, to share in the work of creating meaningful, lasting traditions and to listen with my whole heart to the stories that are shared with me. The Ordained Minister’s Code doesn’t want me to miss the fact that there are some commitments I need to make to my self and my family, but it’s the last line that I most need to hear. That which says: Relying on the grace of God, I will lead a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.
There is deep hunger in the world. It’s a hunger I feel in the church I could have served, a hunger I encounter reading the news in the morning and a hunger I feel within myself each time I try to find my words with pen and paper. There are so many things to be done. There are so many things that I could do — but I can’t do it all and I don’t want to do it just to have a job. I want to do this work because it expresses every part of my call so that I’m always leading a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called. I want that reverberation deep within my soul now and always.