Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
In August, Presbyterian theologian and author Frederick Buechner died at age 96. You may have benefitted from his prolific writing in a sermon or lesson when a preacher or teacher quoted him, and your ears tingled with his remarkable way of mixing theological truth and rich storytelling.
The excellent essay in Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons based on the Constitutional Questions about this month’s ordination question begins with Buechner’s description of Christian vocation from his book "Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC."
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Simply put: your individual call to ministry in the church connects your deepest gladness with the world’s deepest hunger. Using your unique gladness, gifts, and graces in service to God’s yearning world requires your particular balance of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Your way of living out your calling is unlike anyone else’s.
You could read this ordination promise as a to-do list: use more energy, attain more intelligence, develop more imagination, and show more love. I’m tired just typing that, and ready to skip the next session meeting out of a sense of inadequacy.
Or, you could read and affirm this promise as a call to nurture yourself, so that you can lead. Less a to-do list and more a to-be list.
- To be a leader with energy, you promise to seek ways to sustain your own energy. How will you rest and find sabbath during your term as a leader? What restores your soul? Go there. Do that. It’s part of your call.
- To be a leader with intelligence, you promise to keep learning. This means not only the Bible and theology but also subjects and situations where your deep gladness is engaged. Keep your God-given intelligence curious and active, whether it’s busy with bee-keeping, book-reading, or business practices. It will all enrich your service as an officer.
- To be a leader with imagination, you promise to stay open to experiences that enlarge your vision. Listen to new voices. Seek out creative art. Play a game with a child. Take a slow walk. As you practice diverse ways to imagine, invite God to open your ears, eyes, and heart to new possibilities for yourself and your community.
- To be a leader with love, you promise to love and let yourself be loved, as one who is beloved. You and those you seek to love are all God’s beloved. How will you practice love as an officer? This requires more than showing up at meetings and making informed and prayerful decisions. It means bringing your whole self into your ministry, and greeting others as whole human beings, made in God’s image, beloved by the Creator just as you are.
In thinking about this question, my ears are typically drawn to the end of it: the promising of our energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Now, I am noticing the beginning. We are not promising that we have these resources in abundance, ready to go. We are asked if we will pray for and seek to serve [God’s] people with them. There will be days we feel a lack of energy or intelligence. There may be seasons when our imagination sputters out rather than soaring. There will always be the need to pray for and seek more love. Meeting the world’s deep hunger with our deep gladness is an ongoing task of becoming more fully who God made us each to be.
May you continue to be, as well as to do, as you pray for and seek to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
- Where do you see your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meeting?
- How can you nurture your resources of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
- How do the resources in Coming Alive in Christ deepen your understanding of this question? Read the resource material with suggested activities for groups to further engage with this question.
The Rev. Julie Coffman Hester is a pastor and writer in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She is inspired by faithful ruling elders, like her parents, and the remarkable disciples with whom she has served in local congregations.
This article is the ninth in a 12-part series focusing on the constitutional questions that church leaders answer upon their ordination and installation, using some of the materials from Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions, which is available through Equip, the church’s online training platform.