Genesis II: Re-Vision and Renew

What are you willing to do… anyway?

April 27, 2021

By: The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, Staff Officer for Church Planting

“What are you willing to do… anyway?”

“What are you willing to pursue, even when success isn’t guaranteed?”

Some form of these questions has emerged in just about every conversation I’ve had this week.  What compels me to offer myself to the church, even after I’ve been irreparably hurt by the institution?  What does our faith community look like, after losing twenty or thirty members to COVID?  How does my call to church planting connect with my personal vocation AND the needs of the neighborhood around me?  What compels New Episcopal Community leaders to continue in the face of repeated experimentation and failure, when many are facing the reality that they’ll have to “start over” post-covid, and when most are paid less than half the salary of their counterparts in established parishes?

How does answering these questions honestly and vulnerably contribute toward building trust – and how will that trust carry us forward in our mission to build Christ’s Church?

However, first things first.  Why is it so hard to answer honestly? 

At last year’s Wisdom Circle, one of the questions that emerged basically amounted to: “What’s the difference between  your profession and your vocation, and when has that difference been tested for you?”  I posted this question on Facebook to see what answers would show up.  And while dozens of folks were eager to explain the difference between vocation and profession (“Vocation is who I’m called to be through the Baptismal Covenant!  Profession is my job.”)  only one leader answered the second part…. “The testing comes when my assumptive profession is radically challenged, while my core vocation grows stronger amidst the changes and chances of strife.

Maybe honesty is hard because we’re taught to feel ashamed when our profession is “radically challenged.”  In one of my more profound conversations this week, there was a moment when all three of us shared that, at some point, we’d gone a year or more without paid employment.  Though few will openly admit it, I’ve watched colleagues in established parishes weather an existential crisis during this time of covid, where their traditional role as worship leader in the congregation was significantly diminished.  In a conversation this morning regarding financial sustainability of new church starts, we shared stories of realizing it was time to go bi-vocational… or deciding to leave the community so they could develop a less expensive leadership model.  

I have a Southern Baptist pastor friend who was recently asked to resign from his position, as he was “theologically  incompatible” with the rest of the church.  Following several months of immense anxiety about the financial well-being of his family, he has taken a secular job.  While wounded, my friend told me that he’s taking immense comfort in Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus.  The treatise on Christian leadership has helped him distinguish between his profession (the pastorship that gave him status, a salary, a pulpit and the sense of a noble profession) and his vocation, which is to accompany Jesus at the margin, at the foot of the cross and in the neglected morning hours of the Resurrection.    

Maybe, the vulnerability it takes to answer the opening questions of this reflection is the real key to freedom.  Naming the risk on the table, the endless “what ifs,” and identifying potential sources of shame are exactly what we need to enable us to follow Jesus more deeply in this moment.  

Though I haven’t read Nouwen’s book (yet… I just ordered it, of course!) here’s a quote someone posted on Goodreads that touches me:

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her vulnerable self.”