So I did not expect the first challenge of my field placement to be simply setting up a meeting with my teaching pastors to meet with them and begin to talk about my work at Hyde Park Union Church (heretofore referred to as HPUC) for the upcoming year. Granted, I extended my summer as long as possible, returning to Hyde Park on Friday September 25th, but I still assumed that my teaching pastors would want to meet with me as soon as possible and get me on board ASAP. I guess this assumption highlights a couple of things for me. One reminder regards the availability of pastors – I didn’t really expect them to be available to meet anytime 24/7, but I definitely did not appropriately account for how busy they actually are.
Another reminder for me, and I really should have known better since my own parents are pastors, and I feel that I have often received an inside-view of pastors’ lives as a PK (more on that later), is that having interns does not mean less work for the pastors but in fact more. I take up time that they could be putting into hospital visits, sermon preparation, community organizing and so forth. While I know that I have gifts and experiences to contribute to the HPUC community, I am also receiving a great deal from this community, not the least of which is their pastors’ time and energy. Going along with this, while I might be my own priority, I am not the pastors’ priority. This is hard for me to remember sometimes. I will be the first to admit that I have a big ego – I like to be liked, I think I am valuable and have valuable things to say, I think that I am worth another person’s time and energy. And hey, let’s be honest, I am often caught up with the universe as it is from my perspective. And, humanly, I forget that this perspective is, in fact, unique to me. So I sometimes wonder why other people are not paying me mind. This difficulty with scheduling a first meeting, then, is a reminder that, while the work and learning I will be doing at HPUC is important, the congregation and its pastors have a whole lot of other things going on. (Which is one of the reasons I chose HPUC as a teaching congregation.)
I think perhaps, the reminders about my own self-centerdness provide worthwhile points of reflection as I enter into this internship. I want to be mindful about how and where I extend myself and to remember that ministry, and thus my ministry internship, is not really about me. The lack of a meeting within the first two weeks of school has nothing to do with me personally. At the same time, I do bring my own self and life and wellbeing with me into this position, and I also want to be mindful of my own needs and desires in the context of this internship. I want to make sure that I get out of it what I want and need, and one of those things will be my teaching pastors’ time and energy, and I need to assert myself in asking for this if it is not readily available.
On a completely different note, having not yet started my internship but having attended Sunday service several times with my mind towards an internship, I have found that I tend to look with an extremely critically trained eye – the eye of a PK who would spend at least half an hour, and often longer, in conversation with my parents after attending any church service but especially those at which my parents were not presiding. Conversation would cover everything from how well the church attended to us as visitors (if we were such), to whether the pastors used inclusive language, to the childrens’ message, the liturgy, the feel of the church and of course the sermon itself. I find that this critical eye for details in church has followed me to HPUC (it will probably follow me everywhere for the rest of my life). Of course, I do not notice everything, but I do notice a fair bit. And I have lots of opinions!
Something that will be important for me to work on over the course of this quarter, and the longer year, is how to observe critically but withhold judgment, how to see areas in which I would do things differently and ask: why do they do it like this? How does it affect the clergy, the deacons, the lay people to do it this way? What might the benefits and the costs of doing it this way be? How might I do it differently and why? Depending on how invested I am in the particular piece of the service or ministry, I may choose to ask one my teaching pastors these questions to really get a handle on why things are done as they are. For some things, I am sure that I will find there are well-thought out reasons that I agree with. For others, there will be well-thought out reasons with which I disagree. And for others still I may find that no one has really thought about it or no one has made the effort to change how these things are done. In which case I may/will have the opportunity to suggest some of my own ideas.
The big things here are for me to practice critical thinking without judgment (they are all too easy to pair together) and to have the courage to ask about and offer other ideas for certain things that I decide are important to me.
I am looking forward to meeting with Susan and Zach (my teaching pastors) on Tuesday to begin my internship at HPUC. I hope this year and my experience there will provide space and time and experience for discernment for me. Questions such as: do I belong in the church (at all)? If yes, where and how? What are the gifts that I bring (something I am learning in the context of other spiritual communities)? How much can I share with other Christians the lessons that I have learned from people of other faith traditions and from my witness of the practice of other traditions? Can I be a multi-faith Christian theologian? And what does this look like in the church?
I also want to be very aware of my need to balance time and care for myself while also caring for others. More and more, again and again, I am reminded that if my body, my mind and my spirit (in other words – ME) are not healthy, then what I have to offer to others is diminished and I can even sometimes do more harm than good.
As you can see, I’m also a reflecter, and it will be important for me to find ways in which to helpfully reflect on my time in and out of my congregation in ways that help me but that are also not unduly cumbersome on others.
I’m looking forward to this journey. Please keep reminding me that I’m not alone, God goes with me always and everywhere, and if it’s getting too much, I can turn it over to God. If it is becoming too much about me, I MUST humbly turn it over to God. And whatever I do, I should keep a sense of humor about it and not take myself too seriously!