This is the second in a four-part series on transitions in ministry.
Sometime in the early afternoon of my first day as a minister, I left my office, still stacked high with boxes of books, and went looking for the labyrinth. I knew Village Church had a labyrinth—I had seen the pictures—but I did not know where I would find it. After checking behind a few doors, I found the room, an old chapel with a labyrinth painted on a creaky wooden floor. After only a few steps along the familiar pattern, I began to worry: What if someone is trying to call me in my office right now? Are there any emails that need to be replied to? I wonder if there is something more productive I am supposed to be doing with my time.
The conflicted feeling that overcame me as I stood in that sacred pathway characterizes well these earliest weeks of my transition into ministry. I am pulled between rushing to create fulfilling busy-ness and slowing down long enough to be over-run by grace. Walking the labyrinth has been an important spiritual discipline for me during my first month of pastoral ministry because it removes me from a mode of efficiency. The labyrinth walk is one moment in my day which insists on being taken slowly, and I can feel it pulling open space in my work to allow God’s presence to come rushing in.
I am learning that the hardest part of ministry for me is nurturing the spaces within myself that were first opened to this call so that they can stay open to the Spirit’s moving. By taking a slow walk through a winding path every day, I am seeking to preserve habits of attentive discernment in the midst of a day full of other demands. Moving from place to place in an indirect and slow manner is a remarkably counter-cultural practice and it mirrors the counter-cultural qualities of pastoral ministry. I am learning that excellent ministry is not achieved by completing tasks with feverish intensity. In fact, excellent ministry moves with the uncertain tempo of grace. It follows hearts as they wander through painful stories. It collaborates with groups of weary and faithful folks. Walking the labyrinth reminds me that I have been called to move through winding paths ready to see God along the way.
Beginning my ministry as a pastoral resident means that my first steps are already scrawled on the floor. I benefit from a path that has been walked by others. Still, I carry my own questions, goals, hopes, and expectations. The residency holds my journey. It provides consistent feedback and encouragement to grow into my own pastoral identity and offers companions for the journey. The structure of the residency injects questions into my work that I might forget to ask and gives me space to wonder about my work. The residency has been my labyrinthine path into ministry, showing me where to step but open to what I carry. With each step, each day, I am filled with immense gratitude that this is my work. I am honored by the openness I have encountered and the enthusiasm with which I am being invited to journey deeper into this call.
The photo above is of the labyrinth in Burtt Chapel, Wellesley Congregational Church (Village Church), and is used by permission from Wellesley Congregational Church.
John Allen is a Pastoral Resident at the Wellesley Village Church in Wellesley, MA. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary.
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