When Brit Bolerjack announced the Young Clergy Conference, I immediately knew I wanted to attend, for numerous reasons: I like to connect with fellow ministers; I crave conversations at a deeper level that resituate me for the hectic pace of ministry; I want to support Brit’s tireless efforts to engage our young clergy in the Church of the Nazarene; Richard Rohr is a significant voice worth traveling to hear and meet. Choose any of those reasons: they all feel worth getting on a plane.
When I shared on Facebook that I was hoping to go, a good-natured friend mentioned that thirty-five (my current age) was only young for pastors and concert pianists. This may or may not be hyperbolic, but it struck me that my perspective should change, so it did. I now have little interest in attending to myself at the conference. Don’t get me wrong—I look forward to the friends, meals, conversation, spiritual deepening, prayer, and everything else that will greet me in Oklahoma City, but this is not why I am going. I am going to give.
I will arrive happy. I am content in my position, roles, education, income, and voice, yet I will be sharing space with many who are not. There will be pastors who come sad, underappreciated, underpaid, underutilized, tired, thinking of a change, overwhelmed, broken, and/or in need of rest. As I approach the category of “not young anymore,” it is time for me to be present for those who desperately need someone to give them the gift of presence, a listening ear, a calming voice, and sense of collegiality.
As I transition my life from mentored to mentor, I will receive so much from the young clergy our denomination is affirming in ordination.
I still long to be filled myself, but I find that, as age creeps up on me, I am filled as much by being around the passion of young clergy as I am by seeking to feed myself. I don’t have to agree with their conclusions, their methods, or their taste in worship style. We serve the same Lord, and our common Lord calls and equips young pastors to do audacious work in and for the kingdom! Young clergy look after the poor, deny themselves in mind-bending manners, care for the future of the church in passionate ways, and think creatively about the church’s current realities in the United States. The way they care is beyond anything I have personally done. The exciting work among young ministers in the Church of the Nazarene gives me unbelievable hope in the present and for the future, and also challenges me to look more like Christ.
I listened to a This Nazarene Life podcast episode recently with Jennifer Chapman. I do not know her personally, but I was taken aback when she reminded the audience that when we give to people, we do not do so simply to feel superior or as if we have accomplished something. We receive too. She described how the poor have wowed her with their faith and taught her about faith. I want to join Jennifer in this work, but I also recognize that as I transition my life from mentored to mentor, I will receive so much from the young clergy our denomination is affirming in ordination.
I long to be reminded that there is hope in the middle of many realities that can feel defeating: churches closing, finances dwindling, church members arguing on Facebook over politics, attendance figures dropping. I long to be reminded that, though it looks bad, God is not done calling and equipping both ministers and the church.
I hope I get a chance to be challenged by someone who appears to be behind me in the counting stats of district journals but who is clearly ahead of me in mission and vision.
Attending Young Clergy Conference, for me, is about being refreshed by the stories of grassroots ministers doing remarkable things. It is about seeing the face of Jesus and the work of the Spirit in those who are sold out to kingdom work. I hope I get the chance to see and hear with the Spirit is doing. I hope I get a chance to tell someone who needs to hear it that their work is good. I hope I get a chance to be challenged by someone who appears to be behind me in the counting stats of district journals but who is clearly ahead of me in mission and vision. I hope I get the chance to be renewed in the call and optimism for the future God is writing in our midst, of which we are blessed to be a part.
I look forward to all of this, and I look forward to being reminded that we are not as alone as we feel when we are separated by the miles. We are in this together. We are not alone.