Worship and Vocation
The following personal reflections illustrate how rostered leaders and congregations are finding ways to connect their vocational calls — their ministries in daily life — to their congregations' ministries. Our authors are Paul Mittermaier of Jackson, Wisconsin; Susan Gamelin of High Point, North Carolina; Rolf Svanoe of Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Carl Peterson of Upper Arlington, Ohio.Good and Greasy
I like to work with my hands. As a pastor, I work mostly with my mind, heart, ears, and mouth, but I especially like to work with my hands. I've dabbled in woodworking and gardening. Still, I'm always drawn back to my first love — cars.
For most of my life, cars have been my hobby. For me, WWJD stands for "What Would Jesus Drive?"
(Check the Web site at whatwouldjesusdrive.info). When I read the Bible, car stuff jumps out at me. Consider Acts 2:1 (paraphrase of King James Version): "The apostles came [together] in one Accord!" Or Joshua 6:5 where the Israelites make a "long blast with the Ram's horn" to bring down the walls of Jericho.
I've had some interesting moments with cars in ministry, such as jump-starting a hearse in the church driveway in my alb, so the funeral procession could get going. Recently a teen asked that I bless his rickety, pride-and-joy: an old Ford pickup truck.
More recently, however, my passion for cars has become a tool for ministry. I am learning that "where your passion and the world's needs intersect, God will use you." While St. John's in Jackson, Wisconsin, isn't the first ELCA congregation with an automotive ministry, our fledgling Motorhead Ministries fills a need.
Public transportation is practically nonexistent in our area, so a reliable vehicle is the key to a job. We're planted in an affluent county, but poverty knows its way around. One night a week, four busy guys get dirty for God. They fix brakes, change tires, replace radiators, and lay their hands on other people's cars, performing minor miracles. When we're blessed with a donated vehicle, we make it road worthy and get it into the hands of a new owner. We send both vehicle and driver off with a blessing. Our ministry is fun and in demand.
We've seen an old Mercury help a single mom keep her job and apartment. We gave an old minivan to a guy who then began his own ministry. He chauffeurs his apartment neighbors to a meal program at Capitol Drive Lutheran in Milwaukee, because he's the only resident in his building with wheels! God uses these vehicles and our hands to connect us with others.
Exactly how you are called to respond to the needs of your community will be as individual as you and your congregation are. But find a way to blend something you love with something God needs done in this world, and have a great time doing it! Get your hands good and greasy, if at all possible.
We Can Do All Things...
I've been watching folks in the congregation I serve as they make career plans. It's an interesting thing to watch.
Stacy is just starting her junior year in college. I've known her for the last five years. She's always known what she wants to do: be a doctor, probably a pediatrician. She's determinedly making her way toward that goal, taking the courses she needs, getting the As that will get her into med school, taking trips to Jordan and Costa Rica and Morocco planned by the Lutheran Campus Ministry she's part of. She knows that these trips expand her view of the world and its needs. How on earth has Stacy been able to have such a determined goal? And keep moving toward it?
In college I was one of those people who could never figure out what they wanted to be. No determined goal for me. I finally ended up as a zoology major. My husband says it's because I got to Z and ran out of options. It wasn't until I met women pastors for the first time at a Lutheran Church in America convention in 1976 that I realized that God calls women to ordained ministry, too. That experience and the busy Bible reading I was doing in those days ran smack into an unplanned "lightning bolt" moment of call. All three brought me to seminary in 1978. Our four kids came with me, and that dear husband, too. Galatians 3:27-28 had stirred my soul and become written on my heart: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." That verse had always been part of my Bible — I just never noticed it before.
But what about Stacy? And Joy? Joy's been watching Stacy, who is three years ahead of her in school. In addition to Stacy's example, Joy has firsthand knowledge about her native country, Sudan, and its compelling need for doctors. Joy wants to be one. And what about Michael, whose desire to become an engineer has taken him in a direction he didn't anticipate? He's in grad school to become an environmental engineer, a career to which the crisis of global warming has called him. And Anne, who brought her husband and little girl from Hawaii to North Carolina so that she could go through a four-year dental hygiene program and help people? So exhausted was Anne when she finished that she could only weep.
I'm watching them. I'm also watching Curt as he looks for another career after losing his job as a truck driver. And Jennifer, when her ethical standards led her to resign from a well-paying job that didn't measure up. How are these folks able to move forward with such determination?
In each case, their families — and their church families — are there for them, worshiping with them, teaching them, encouraging them, setting examples for them, and telling them that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them. Even when it's tough. I believe that each week when they listen to God's word and eagerly hold out their hands for bread and wine, they know that God has called them by name and has given them gifts to serve as doctors and engineers and dental hygienists and truck drivers and....
I know that God's call is written on their hearts. Stacy. Joy. Michael. Anne. Curt. Jennifer. They, and we, are God's. They, and we, can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We're one in Christ Jesus.
High Point, North Carolina
The Spirit Speaks
Darrel came up to me after the service. "Pastor, I want you to know what happened to me in your sermon today." I guess I shouldn't be so surprised that something actually happens in a sermon. Usually after worship people just shake my hand and say, "Nice sermon!" But Darrel's words grabbed my attention. He explained, "Today, God told me to go to Haiti."
Let me tell you about Darrel. Darrel is a physician's assistant, a faithful member of the congregation I serve. He has taken several mission trips to our sister synods of Cameroon and Nicaragua. After his last trip, Darrel thought it time to let someone else take over. No more mission trips, or so he thought. But God had other plans.
Darrel came to worship one Sunday. The gospel reading was of Jesus healing a deaf man. "Ephphatha! Be opened!" Our congregation houses our synod's ministry to the deaf called Heartland Ephphatha. One of the things we have learned from our deaf brothers and sisters is that they do not see themselves as faulty or in need of healing. So I preached this story as a metaphor for being open to God's will. This healing happened in the region called the Decapolis, a region inhabited by Gentiles where most Jews would be reluctant to visit, and where I imagined the disciples did not want to go. I asked the congregation to be open to where Jesus was leading them, even to places that might be uncomfortable for them.
"Today, God told me to go to Haiti!" Darrel announced. He had been struggling with this decision. The gospel reading and sermon were what the Spirit used to push him over the edge. I didn't plan it. And I shouldn't be surprised when something actually happens in a sermon.
The story doesn't end there. Darrel came back from his trip shaken by the level of poverty he had witnessed. Not even in Africa had he seen such extreme need. He came back with ideas of how our men's Bible study group could get involved in meeting those needs. Since then Darrel has journeyed to Haiti a second time and come back with even more ways to involve our congregation. He is starting a local branch for Kids Against Hunger where, beginning this fall, they hope to package 30,000 meals a month, the majority to feed starving children in Haiti. It is exciting to see how ministry grows — all because one person's heart was opened to God's will.
The story doesn't end there either, but the ending has yet to be written. We pray for open hearts to respond to God's call.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Faith in the Workplace
I have served as moderator for six years with a ministry in our church: "Forum for Faith in the Workplace and Daily Living." This ministry, originally known as "Forum for Faith in the Workplace," was an area-wide ecumenical forum in Central Ohio and introduced to our church — Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Upper Arlington, Ohio — by one of its founders and our member, J. Patrick Ross. Although the area-wide and ecumenical nature of the forum no longer has a presence in Central Ohio, we at Holy Trinity continue to carry out the intent of the forum as a ministry with the attached words "and Daily Living."
Once a month, we meet at the home of our founder and his wife, Nancy, for witnessing, storytelling, and connecting Sunday worship to our daily lives and faith journeys. Attendance ranges from six to fourteen people. Our purpose is to reiterate that each of us has been given gifts by God for service to others in the name of Christ by all we do with our daily lives. This service may be in our vocational calling, volunteering, homemaking, consulting, or any other facet of life. It involves all of us as Christians.
The list below is a summary of some of the activities in which we have searched for ways to be of service and to fulfill God's calling through this ministry during the last six years. The exchange of ideas from items two and three were published in the church's monthly newsletter:
- We held two regional Community Faith at Work Programs in which we invited featured speakers to give testimonials about their work experience and faith journey. One speaker was a judge on the Ohio Supreme Court and the other the superintendent of public schools in Columbus, Ohio.
- We asked each member of the forum to lead a discussion on "how Christians remain faithful to core and religious values when confronted with workplace and everyday life challenges." Some topics covered in this three-year program were: information proliferation; consumerism; economic inequality; secularism; political intolerance; and disconnectedness.
- We examined "hot button" issues and language — triggers for intense reactions from people. Our intent was to compare how these triggers were discussed on Sunday and lived out in daily life. Some topics considered in this year-long program were: gay marriage, sex, values; deviance and criminality, bottom line growth, and government and politics.
- For the last 18 months we have invited congregation members to share their faith journey and how they have heard and continue to hear God's calling to serve others on their journey.
Upper Arlington, Ohio
This article appeared in the September / October 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 5).