Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Called to This Leaky Apartment

Yesterday I posted a link to a map-chart of new Presbyterian congregations in the U.S. in the last 10 years. You can find that map-chart in figure 3 here: PCUSA Stats. The map is nearly blank. 

Over the last couple of days, Landon Whitsitt has posted a couple of blogposts, suggesting newly minted seminary graduates set off to plant new churches. Here are those posts:

Dear Young(ish) Mainline Pastor Type People: Please Plant a Church

Further thoughts on my “plant a church” post

You can go read the posts if you want--they make plenty of sense. The titles are self-explanatory--Landon basically says new pastors who want opportunities for new ministry should consider planting a church.

Then Emily Morgan responded to Landon with her post: "Reply to Rev. Whitsitt" in which she outlined her reasons for choosing a mainline denomination with structure and support, and that running off to church plant did not match her sense of call (and I get this).

Fair enough, all of it. I find myself caught by both their posts as someone who has been working as a temporary supply pastor 1/3 time and is now looking for a new call. I didn't succeed in planting a church. I didn't succeed in "saving" an old church. But I suspect that neither dream was what Christ called me to at this time.

Indulge me a minute, because I am speaking from a position of spectacular failure, and what I have left to share are my words and reflections on this time.

When I was a young girl I wanted to be a belly dancer. Somebody hired a belly dancer for my uncle's birthday, and she taught my cousin, sister, and I a little bit of dance. She was so very beautiful, and her clothing sparkled as she moved, her skirts swishing and hair swaying.

The next year I wanted to be a police officer. I don't remember what prompted that desire, but it faded.

For a while I wanted to be a rock star because I had heard rock music at a friend's house. My family didn't listen to rock and roll; I grew up on John Denver. I can still Karaoke "Country Roads" like I was born in West Virginia. Which I wasn't. During that year I made a microphone out of anything and belted out Joan Jett's "I  Love Rock and Roll" and "Centerfold" by the J. Geils Band. Just playing those songs tonight made me smile.

When I went to college I first was going to study Aeronautical Engineering and the airforce gave me a scholarship. The fatal flaw in this plan is that I stink at Physics. The world is a better place that I don't design your airplanes. Or any part that goes into them. The airforce gladly parted with my overly sensitive self--I didn't respond well to authority.

Returning home after the first semester, I surprised everyone (including myself) by moving out, getting a job, attending night school, and getting married. I finished my degree in Geography.

Along the way I had been unemployed a while. Exasperated, my mother handed me the classifieds with jobs circled. I was to apply for jobs before coming for Sunday dinner. So I did. I got a job as a front desk clerk substitute. After a while I picked up shifts. One day one of the bosses asked me to register some checks for her programs, and I liked the work. A connection here and there, and I transferred to her department. When I graduated, I landed her job.

I was sort of astounded, actually. Her job entailed supervising 25 staff plus some volunteers, along with managing a $750,000 budget. I worked my butt off and got a promotion. And then I had a baby, and I couldn't work 70 hour weeks anymore. 

Around the same time my church was looking for a youth director. We had looked for 18 months and had not found the right person. One day in church it hit me that I could do that job, and that I could bring my baby with me to work a lot. We could have a second baby if we wanted. So I became the youth director and had the second baby. I loved it. Every minute. 

But we couldn't afford to stay where we were. We cast about for a new vision, and what we came up with was seminary. I felt strongly called to seminary, I did. It also seemed like a good plan for our family. We had a vision, shared by church folk and presbytery folk, that I would graduate from seminary and find a typical mainline church to land in that would mostly pay the bills with work I would enjoy. It was a nice vision.

And then came the divorce, special needs diagnoses for the children, and several moves in a small period of time. We have struggled (still as a family, divorce doesn't change that) to stay close and supportive. But all of that changed what was possible.  I landed a gig preaching at a tiny church in my last year of seminary, and when I graduated I was ordained to that tiny ministry in that tiny church. I loved that too. I think you can tell that in my sermons and reflections over the last few years.

I started a PhD program last year. I felt a call to teach and research and write. I had good mentors and advisors, and I started the year with a network of support I had patched together. But over the course of a year that network fell apart, and I ran out of resources. I still feel called to teach and research and write, but I will have to fulfill that call in other ways. The children struggled the whole year I was in school. My ex did too. Our family wasn't making it. So I stopped.

I asked my ex and my children what they thought about moving. Little guy cried. Oldest said I was welcome to but he wasn't. Their dad sighed deep. So we're not moving, and that's ok. I like it in Jersey. I like our quaint apartment at the north end of Trenton. But all that changes what is possible. I'm taking a salsa class.

I think what I'm trying to say is that my call to ordained ministry has not diminished one bit, but the wide open playing field I thought I was working with has narrowed to a fine point on the map. Emily's vision for called ministry is well beyond my reach. Landon's call to plant myself in the neighborhood and start up ministry is more probable than most other plans. I've been tentmaking a while now--I'm sending resumes to whatever might pay the bills. Paying the bills is not my ministry.

There is a wild freedom in tentmaking. I have had the freedom to preach how the Spirit moves me these last three years. I listen to my colleagues talk about not being able to say what needs to be said, and honestly when you're working 1/3 time with no benefits, that's not really a concern. I've had the freedom and flexibility to raise my children, fail at a PhD program, read and write extensively. I don't think people should go into tentmaking because there aren't options--I think people should consider it because it's good for the soul.

In the last three years, I have gathered an online community around me through twitter, facebook, and the blogs that has reached far beyond the walls of the tiny church I worked with. 6740 individuals have visited the church blog from every state (heavily concentrated in New Jersey, California, Texas and New York) and from 105 countries/territories around the world. They don't all come for the Jesus thing--the blog searches tell me that much. But a lot do.

Two years ago I came out as queer while still working as a pastor in the pulpit. My tiny church barely blinked an eye. This too, is part of the wild freedom of tentmaking with a tiny church. Through that process dozens of lgbtqqi2s folk in the church have contacted me seeking connection, companionship, and shared journey.

I need to pay the bills, there's no getting around that. But I am not called to my bills. I am called to follow the Spirit where it leads, and right now the Spirit seems to be sitting still in this leaky apartment by Trenton. So be it. I'll get my PIF out there. But I don't have a lot of hope that a divorced, queer, mother of two children with special needs, pastor is going to nail that denominational dream job within a 20 mile radius of this apartment.  

I have no doubt that I will keep doing ministry, though. I will keep on with my online community. I will keep making local connections. I'll finish that work I keep promising to finish for Presbyterian Women online. I'll keep pushing for this youth collaboration I dearly would love to make happen. I'll preach when and where I can, because I love it. I'll do spiritual direction. I'll lead retreats. Somehow it will be enough, and Christ's love will flow through this work, because Christ's love always flows through our work. And that is what we are called to.


  1. AMEN. Loved this, Katie. So glad you are doing what you're doing.

  2. Thank you, Jill. And so glad you're here with me.

  3. A calling isn't always a place or a thing. Sometimes it's just a thought, a belief, a touch on your soul. I figure you will find your path between all the other things that life calls you to, like being an exceptional mother and friend.

  4. Amen. (and how fun, to learn about your career choices along the way.)

    I love Alissia's thought about not being called to a place or a thing.

    It is very early, even for this morning person.


  5. My son-in-law, @kirkjeffery, tweeted your blog. Kirk is struggling on his call. I can see a lot of him, and Him, in you.

    I'm not a pastor nor am I ordained but I've been called; just not to seminary. Your blog today explains to me how that is okay. Mainly you have explained how mainline churchdom only understands, is only equipped to deal with, certain traditional things. If you come up as a salsa dancing belly dancer police officer mother pastor, they don't know what to do. In my case, the Lutheran Church (MS) has no official slot for PhD engineers to be called into, even with a master's in parish education and administration.

    But God does. He just did not send me the engraved copperplate explanation yet. I look for it in the mail every day. Hey, I look for it everywhere.

    I bet His mail to me is right next to His mail to you.

  6. Beautiful. Well written. Rooting for you!

  7. I enjoy reading what you write,

    When I think about call, Abraham comes to mind. Genesis 12:1-3 records a strong call and in verse 4, without any conversation Abraham follows the call, picks up and leaves.

    At the end of his life, and in the middle parts as well, Abraham must have felt like a failure, like he somehow misunderstood the call. There was no great nation, only broken relationships, no one was blessing themselves in his name, he even had to buy land to bury his wife.

    Yet we know the end of the story....

    Keep following :)

  8. Thanks Katie, Your appreciation for the freedom of tent making ministry resonates with my experience too, and your sense of call and grace always inspires me. Thanks and God bless,

  9. Hasn't the denomination eliminated synods yet? It's been under discussion for at least 20 years. Eliminate them and plant churches.

  10. Well, I like the concept of synods myself. Pretty sure there are plenty of hands stretched out already waiting to go prodigal with the synod moneys if they fold.

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  12. I am a seminary student graduating this May and hoping to work in faith based community ministry (not necessarily parish-based). I just entered the ordination process post-10A. It's so refreshing to read authentic articulations of what it means to be called. Thank you.


  13. Katie, I shared my enthusiasm for your blog and this post in particular with my entire staff. You are real and your faith is deep. I thank God for your life, ministry and witness - PTL!

  14. Hi Katie. Thank you for posting nice to hear what you are up to and what the past few years have been like for you. I appreciate your honesty and gift for writing that portray the realities of ministry and call.


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