Bi-vocational first week thoughts
It wasn’t my first time preaching. I’d preached before, off and on the last two years as an Episcopal deacon. But last week marked my first week preaching to a new congregation, and my first time preaching anywhere as a head of congregation during this, my last year of priesthood studies, God-willing, in bi-vocational ministry.
“What’s your preaching like?” had been the chief topic of Q&A conversation following a recent church welcome dinner. Short, long, political, spiritual? What were they in for on Sunday? The congregation wasn’t sure, but they were warm and welcoming, energized and encouraging. Their faith in our shared future, having just met me and my family, and their trust in a minister of the Church spurred me to greater levels of anticipation and nervous preparation ahead of our first week together.
The congregation and I stepped into this brave new world on Sunday, together walking through the lectionary from Jeremiah 32 on the prophet’s act of faith. We explored his very public witness from the midst of imprisonment, investing boldly through the “right of redemption by purchase” to claim for his family – and by example the nation – the real estate of living as God’s people in a war-ravaged land. Proclaiming a new covenant, Jeremiah stood in a seemingly indefensible position and delivered God’s message calling the people back into relationship with their Creator, into a future built on trust and hope. God’s promise was that they would again build houses and vineyards in this, their land, he said.
Investing boldly. Facing the unknown with trust and hope. This is the particular calling of bi-vocational congregations and their clergy. With no lengthy vetting process, no vestry-powered search committee, these little congregations and their bi-vocational clergy are brought together by discerning members of congregational development teams, often without either party meeting the other until right before – an arranged marriage, of sorts.
Personally, I find this an exciting process. I would imagine it is very much like the formative years of the earliest Christian Church – disciples largely being sent, not vetted, headed to new start-ups or rekindling dwindling gatherings, priest and lay partnerships developing in a space where time and funding are limited and worship and mission are central.
Spoken like a green recruit, right? Maybe. But I think the Church needs green recruits – bi-vocational ministers who aren’t afraid to ask members to work and serve from a seemingly indefensible position of small real estate, smaller bank accounts and a predominantly aging membership. From the outside, it doesn’t make good business sense. But God is in the business of investing in people and places that the world doesn’t value, but which he holds precious.
I’ve discovered this week God has blessed the Church with a congregation made up of an amazing group of people, energetic and excited, gifted with abundant and broad skill sets developed in an environment of living simply from necessity, which may just be the perfect formula for the hope and trust it takes to plant vineyards in a war zone.