A month before the big three-oh, I was on my pastoral internship in Edgemont, South Dakota. It was part of my Masters in Divinity program at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The population of Edgemont at that time was 864. I’d grown up in a suburb of Boston, where there were about 1200 students in my high school alone. Needless to say, I was suffering from some culture shock. I was also struggling with my pastoral identity, trying to figure out how this female ex-Catholic Bostonian could possibly minister to a congregation of rural Midwestern Lutherans. Being single, the isolation was difficult for me, and I was transitioning from a problem drinker into a full-blown alcoholic. I was also a smoker.
Even though I wanted to get married, I expected I’d remain single for the rest of my life. Before I’d begun preparing for ministry, I’d always had trouble attracting decent men. Once I added ‘Pastor’ to my identity, it was like I was radioactive. Most guys wanted nothing to do with someone in my profession. Additionally I was told by some well-meaning family members that my standards were too high. I decided I’d rather keep my high standards and remain single than settle into a bad marriage. I planned to adopt a daughter after I was firmly established in my first call, about two or three years down the line.
I didn’t want to make South Dakota my permanent home, but I knew I never wanted to return to New England, where I’d never felt I belonged. I hoped for a call in Wisconsin or Iowa, where I would be a parish pastor in a smallish community (preferably with a population in the low thousands, rather than hundreds) and hopefully serve the same congregation for a very long time.
Ten years later I’ve burnt out on parish ministry after serving two congregations as called pastor and two more as interim. Only one of those congregations was in the Midwest, and it was the most toxic of the lot, essentially destroying any desire I might have to go back (to parish ministry or to the Midwest). I also quit smoking in 2003 and have been sober for over eight years. I’m happily married to a man who met my standards (what do you know–he did exist!), and I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to our two young children. We’re also living in New Hampshire, and are very happy here. It turns out New England is where I belonged after all.
I’m not letting my theological training go to waste, even as I acknowledge that parish ministry is not a good fit for me. I’m an active member of a local Lutheran congregation, where I occasionally teach adult bible studies. I also fill in for my pastor and other nearby colleagues when they need a Sunday off. Finally, I’m combining my theological training with my life-long love of writing. I’m in the process of launching my own publishing house where I will publish devotions, bible studies, worship resources, theological books, and even some fiction (which may or may not have a religious theme). Of course, that takes a backseat to being a wife and mother, two jobs that are MUCH more difficult than I’d ever imagined (but worth it nonetheless).
Would you like to participate in the Time Capsule Challenge? Leave a comment with your current age, and I’ll give you an age to write about. If you’re willing, please either write your response in a comment, or provide a link to your own page. Otherwise, just do this for your own edification. It’s fun!