I'm learning a new scenario....
I meet someone in San Francisco and one of the very first questions I'm asked is what I do. "I'm a pastor," I say, "I work at a church." The second response I've added recently when I realized that "I'm a pastor" didn't answer their question enough. I needed to provide further clarification.
Now, I've seen the shocked responses to my answer from folks who are surprised that I am female and clergy. Or that I am a clergyperson and so YOUNG. But, here in San Francisco, I'm learning that the shocked response comes simply because that phrase "I'm a pastor," doesn't communicate to them. One of the next questions is "so... what do you do everyday?"
I stammer to reply with the hundreds of hats I wear... "I organize and lead worship every Sunday, I meet people in coffee shops and bars to get to know them, I visit people when they're in the hospital, I run a small organization...so I pay taxes, process payroll, bookkeeping, other admin work... I fix printers when they break.. I participate in community groups and work with the church community to do service in the community and world." I don't even go into the polity part... I participate in presbytery and moderate session meetings... that really won't communicate.
It has been interesting time and time again to articulate what I do. It reminds me how much of what I do has become "insider language" and that I need to find ways to communicate what I as pastor and we as church do in the community.
If this new acquaintance is still talking to me at this point...this is the question that usually follows: "Why did you become a pastor?" Ah, yes, because God called me. Hmmm...does that translate in the vernacular? Lemme try this: "I'm interested in public service. I thought about social work, public health, and immigrant law in college. When I did a short internship in Guatemala in social work, I realized that I have a tendency to try to be "superwoman" and got frustrated at the end of the day when I couldn't do enough. People still went to bed with empty stomachs. I needed to work through the church because then at the end of the day I can rest fully in the hope that I don't have to be enough. God is enough. God is working through others and through this community for good. In the church, I get to share that message of hope all the time.
These recent conversations have been meaningful for me because they have brought to my attention the need for us rethink our "insider" language to be able to communicate with the rest of the world who is full of people that have never stepped foot in a church, much less a PC(USA) church. These conversations have reminded me to focus on the most basic, important questions of call: What do you do and why? I strongly believe that if we (church and pastors) do a better job of communicating who we are and what we do to the world around us, we might actually meet some of the spiritual hunger in this world. People are here, asking the same questions, "What do you do? What does that mean? Why in the world did you choose that?"
I'm doing my very best to see these new conversations as a gift to share God's glory, hope, and love with the hungry and broken world around me instead of this bizarre barrier that sets me apart from those around me. Feeling more and more like the Early Church in Acts that has to continually explain themselves to the world around them than the institutionalized power "the church" that was known by all.