Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Yes, I'm a Minister. No, I Don't Have a Church.

This is the title of my blog because this is a conversation I have on a consistent basis. Any other ordained clergyperson who does not serve in traditional parish ministry probably feels my pain/pride right here.

It’s my own fault. People ask what I do, and depending on my mood, I might say I’m a minister. Earlier in my ministry, I could have said things like “program coordinator” or “young adult leadership development” or “alumni relations” or “development” or “chauffeur/event planner/conference facilitator.” Now I could say “public relations for a church publishing house” and get away with it. It’s just that I really am a minister.

These people who ask me what I do, innocently enough, usually ask the follow-up question: “Where is your church?”

This is a perfectly logical question. In our cultural lexicon, ministry has been primarily associated with the parish. It was my intent to enter parish ministry when I graduated from seminary. Both my parents are in parish ministry. I know the rhythm of the church year by heart. Church life is such a part of my being that I don't understand how people think of Easter as a family holiday; for me it was always one long day at church, complete with multiple services and a hurried brunch with worship leaders and their kids.

My life and call didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. This is probably a good thing.

Instead, I have been in other kinds of ministry for almost eight years. I am good at navigating big, diverse systems. I delight in being present to multiple people in multiple places. I feel called to make connections between individual people of faith, local churches, and the resources of national and international ecumenical and denominational structures. I revel in putting on a good event for diverse people of faith in which something holy might happen. I find that being in multiple churches as a guest preacher or communion celebrant, or other capacity for work, keeps my worship life interesting. I love going to church and having pastors, instead of being the pastor. I won’t lie – I also love having most weekends and major holidays off, after spending those days the first 18 years of my life at churches that employed at least one person in my family.

Yes, I’m a minister. No, I don’t have A church. I’m in ministry in THE church.

For another read on institutional ministry by the Rev. Laura Everett, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, here:

*For the non-Presbyterians among you, or those Presbyterians who are wondering why I use the "minister" term, the PC(USA) is using other terminology than “ministers” and “elders.” Since my conversations are frequently with non-Presbyterians, I use “minister” because it is the most familiar term to the average American. When I was ordained, ordained lay people were called deacons or elders, and ordained ministers were called Ministers of Word and Sacrament. In the current Form of Government, ordained deacons are still called Deacons. Those who used to be known as “elders” are called Ruling Elders. Ministers are called Teaching Elders.

For a helpful interpretation of the Book of Order, including updated information on the new Form of Government, see this Geneva Press book:
Presbyterian Polity for Church Leaders, Fourth Edition


  1. I ran this post past someone who told me to be honest: I don't really have most weekends off. I spend many weekends at events, visiting churches, writing, or engaging in other ministry-related activities.

  2. "Church life is such a part of my being that I don't understand how people think of Easter as a family holiday" Feeling shared. And no. I'm not a minister. I'm a shrink who doesn't see patients at the moment. And I realize that has nothing to do with the Easter comment, but it seemed relevant to the topic.