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Guest Blogger: Angela Nelson

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Guest blogger, Angela Nelson is a member of Proclaim, the professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ.  Angela writes about what being approved for ordination and awaiting call can feel like.

Angela studied at  Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and currently lives in Massachusetts.

Angela Nelson 2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Not sure how to name this post without it sounding cheesy or cliche’. But I know naming things is important, so I’m gonna throw some possibilities out there:

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Long and Winding Road. Love in Liminal Time. Hope After All. One Step at a Time. Peek-A-Boo.

Meh. I could probably think through some more, but blogs aren’t always the most thought out things. Come to think of it, blogs – or at least the way I blog – tend to be more the process than the finished product, up to the bitter end.  Thinking out loud for those who would like to listen in.

But I digress.

Which I’m pretty good at, actually. Digression. Which is why I’ve been posting my sermon manuscripts on my blog for the last month or so, as accountability for actually producing said manuscripts before I preach. That way, when I start rambling from the pulpit I can get back to the point by glancing down at these paragraphs which more and more serve as elaborate outlines rather than verbatim for presentation.

So on to that myriad of titles.

A year and a half ago my seminary had a minor implosion when a handful of hopeful MDiv’s-to-be asked some smattering of Bishops about potential call openings for our generation and received less than helpful responses. Granted, the Bishops were being honest about how they saw the state of the ELCA in their respective Synods. To be told that bartending is a legit outlet for ministry when you’ve sunk over $60K into a Master’s Degree and all of the psychological hoops and interviews required to be Ordained to ministry … like I said, it felt very much less than helpful. We spent weeks trying to figure out how to deal with the blow to our collective expectations that the church would find a way to get us into the callings they had painstakingly lead us through clearer discernment of. Those of us who were there for that first conversation came to refer to the day as ‘the Bishop’s Visit,’ much like folks refer to ‘Churchwide 2009′ as an indicator of one particular and thereafter controversial vote on a statement about human sexuality. There were other things discussed and voted on, other celebrations and gripes, but the one big thing which became all-consuming became the identifier for the event, and so it goes that we preserver on the negative far more easily and readily than on the good.

Again, I digress. Apologies.

But I digress in order to relay the time since passed in that light. The 14 months which have passed since that conversation and there are some fabulous new pastors who were part of that graduating class, and there are fabulous pastors-in-waiting who remain without call but not without ministry. It can really suck to prepare with such intensity and then be told to wait for an indefinite amount of time to put said training to its intended use. It can put one in a state of angst, anger, frustration, fear, grief… and all of the above at the same time plus some. Personally, I have at least landed a retail job, thanks to the generosity and trust of a dear friend who is lending me the use of a spare room rent-free while I was job hunting. But looking at this job I do not intend to remain in forever and looking at the dearth of prospects for a queer woman with over $60K in student debt (and climbing!) to find a livable wage in this economy while waiting for a call which could snatch me up at any time (yes, please, any time now!)… It has had its ups and downs. Certainly, nothing new to the experience of anyone with a call to ministry. Certainly mild to compare with the histories of those brave Lutherans and women and LGBTQIA folks whose sweat, tears, prayers and lives have opened doors to me in this process. Still, it has been enough to put into my mind how many other career options might be open to me, with a little elbow grease and some creative networking. Theater? Peace Corps? Elder care?

SO! (and this is a good move here, hang on)

Moving to a new location has had its benefits. New landscape to scope out, hiking trails to discover (which feed my soul in times of plenty and of want), libraries to explore, people to meet. And a local sermon-prep time with area preachers who have embraced me as one of their own and invited me, with their generous offer to preside for free, to supply preach when I can. (One of the retired clergy in this preacher group saw my eagerness to preach and volunteered to preside any Sunday I could supply, since practically every New England parish has weekly Eucharist and I’m not Ordained yet.)

And then!

And then one of those area preachers needed a longer-term supply preacher. Six weeks’ worth of long-term, for the season of Advent and into the first part of Epiphany. Meaning I got Sundays of Advent AND Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. With the Bishop’s blessing I have been able to join a parish community for the long-term supply, preaching and leading worship weekly, getting to know these dear people and some of their beautiful uniquenesses. Last Sunday was my final Sunday with them, and the handmade cards I got from the Sunday School, the needlepoint of Galatians 5 I received from one of the women, the card from the parish as a whole with a gift certificate, the hugs, the serenade (they sang “So Long, Farewell” as I left coffee hour), promises to let them know about where/when my Ordination/Installation would take place…

I do NOT mean to say that this Bishop is somehow a more worthy Bishop than those who visited my seminary over a year ago. Or to ‘stick it to the man’ in any way.

What I DO mean to say is that I have been blessed by God through this church in so many ways, embraced and welcomed (even with blue bangs for the duration of Advent), and in this waiting time I have received the gift of a place and a community to continue in my call of storytelling – sorry, Story-telling – that finding myself looking back on ‘the Bishops Visit’ I almost have to laugh and shake my head that our expectations of Grace are so small.

Is that what I mean to say? Yeah, I think so. On the other side of ‘cheap Grace,’ I think, is the expectation that Grace is smaller than it is.

It reminds me of Luther’s explanation on the Lord’s Prayer where he says that we ask too little of God. Not that asking for a ‘typical’ first call is too little, but… but maybe it is. Maybe what we receive from the God who loved us into existence is so far out of our expectations that we can only handle asking for something considered ‘ordinary.’ Though I’ll bet those of my classmates whose call processes went as typically planned are finding nothing ‘ordinary’ about their ministry, either.

So: Ch-ch-ch-changes… I’m still waiting, still in ups and downs with my timeline, but it’s God’s timeline anyway so I’m learning to ride the (Baptismal) wave.

Long and Winding Road… Another Assignment is coming, in about a month. What will happen? I have no idea. I sure hope I’ve been clear enough on my paperwork this time that they don’t get me somewhere they don’t want to deal with me.

Love in Liminal Time… The only down side to all of this supply work is falling in love with a congregation and having such a short time with them.

Hope After All… Well, duh. No single person can speak for the whole of the church, the whole of the future, except Jesus. And I’m pretty sure the details are wide open on that one, apart from the “Kingdom of God is here” and “Death is NOT the last word” bit.

One Step at a Time… Yup. Even when those steps catch me off guard. Who was it who said faith is taking a step when you can’t see the staircase?

Peek-A-Boo… I’ve been having a blast with the kids at these churches, and it’s made Storytelling much more fun (and been a good excuse to dramatize the Gospel whenever possible – which the kids thanked me for!). Getting a peek at weekly preaching and recognizing faces at the Table has me excited to see what God sends along next. I definitely want more than just Sundays, though. Got to get a parish with some mid-week prayer and Bible Study. Heck, at this point I’d even look forward to council meetings! Let’s talk together about mission, people of God!

But, yes, I’m learning that what I envision might not be anything close to what I get, and that’s gonna have to be okay as long as there’s a way to be healthy in it. Probably it will be more than just okay once I let my guard down enough to live into it. More importantly, the right now is more than okay. That’s the kicker. We’re never idle and wasting time while we wait.

Because between graduation from seminary with that almighty MDiv and waiting for first call is also the continuation of our first and most powerful call: “Child of God, you have been marked with the sign of the cross, and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.”

Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Learn more about Proclaim by visiting www.elm.org/proclaim.

3 Responses to “Guest Blogger: Angela Nelson”

  1. Leila says:

    Angela, you are a treasure. Thanks for sharing. Where ever you go, you are a blessing.

  2. Anita Hill says:

    Angela, Thank you for your capacity to process, write, digress, and keep on writing. I pray for your future opportunities. May you soon be serving a parish.

  3. John White says:

    Rev Angela,
    (I’m the old guy at CWA who blew off some meeting to talk with you about my vision quest whose epiphany turned out to be a covered dish supper). God loves you like crazy. A thoroughly reconstructed, renewed, newborn hipster (you prob hate that word) with just the right blend of amazement and snark and empathy to be a stunningly good pastor, and it will come to pass. You were called to this by God; you never were in it for the money, cuz I know how much they pay you sky pilot types. We (if I may presume to speak for the whole Body of Christ) got your back. Count on it.

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