Pastor's pen for 8th May 2021 - Milestones and mixed blessings

5th May finds me at the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

I feel thankful for this milestone, and look back with recall of God's faithfulness along the way.

Ordained ministry in any denomination of the Christian Church must come with it's systemic issues, and we have our own particular quirks in the PCANZ. My observation of 'the system' as I went through it, was that the ordination programme at KCML in Dunedin was a good and positive experience for me, but the transition both to and from this training phase was difficult and disjointed.

Of particular concern as I exited the programme was the reality of being unemployed just before Christmas 2010, and realizing the wider church had no visible plan for a smooth transition to ministry for me. I felt cut loose. New Zealand was in the grip of the global financial crisis, so alternate work was not really an option either. I realized belatedly that receiving a call to ministry was far more about who you knew rather than what you knew. Most of my classmates had all come to training from existing positions in churches, so were well connected. I had come from a senior teacher role in a primary school...not so connected.

We accepted a call back to Auckland somewhat reluctantly, having fallen in love with Dunedin. I find it impossible now to view the call to ministry with rose-tinted, spiritual glasses, having experienced the blow-torch of refining experiences and family challenges it brings.

The real grieving was to leave our own beautiful home in Dunedin and move to a manse with copious black mould and a quarter-century worth of deferred maintenance in Auckland. My observation and regret is that ministry takes a toll on your spouse and family, sometimes taking years to overcome.

Ministry vacancies in churches are largely overseen by enthusiastic amateurs, who can take forever to gear up and sort things out. From my position of ignorance of how presbyteries actually worked, it seemed excruciating and sometimes rage-inducing. You end up viewing a church profile that accentuates the positive and tends to gloss over the challenges and pitfalls in a struggling congregation. You say 'yes' not because of a great and godly revelation, but because you are reluctant to go to the bank manager cap in hand another time.

Coming to FHPC was a more positive experience than the above, with some years of experience and further wisdom under the belt. Frankly, I would not have come if there was any hint I would have ended up as 'renovation and earthquake strengthening' project manager (a hat that I reluctantly wore over the bridge). I'm ever thankful for a strong board of managers, and a relatively unproblematic church and manse site.

The challenges in each ministry situation are different, but I'm pretty sure I came to FHPC unwittingly carrying burnout/baggage from the previous position, affecting relationships, energy and decisions. Family challenges have come aplenty in this season, and the sense of being the middle generation stretched between the elderly and the young is very real.

I'm most thankful for a capable session and a kind congregation, with toxicity levels set to minimum. We are blessed in a number of ways. Life-shaping challenges have attended this more-than-a-decade long journey in ministry. If we had a crystal ball, no one would venture into it. But that is what faith is for. Challenges come, and God is faithful. God told Israel through the prophet Isaiah;

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and when you pass through the rivers,

they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire,

you will not be burned;

the flames will not set you ablaze.' (Isaiah 43: 1-2)

We too see God's hand within the challenges and keep believing in his grace and goodness.

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