I was surprised (as my field education director Connie Kleingartner taught me to say), during my seminary internship, to find out that many of my working hours were spent alone. Don’t get me wrong, ministry is filled with opportunities to connect: worship, Bible study, visitation, confirmation, book club, Bible school, and more.
But ministry is also filled with opportunities to read, study, write sermons, prepare those Bible studies and confirmation classes, and sit alone in your car as you drive to and from those home and hospital visits. And I appreciate this time for reflection and preparation, but it can be lonely, too.
That’s why another seminary professor, Ralph Klein, gave us this advice on the first day of class: don’t be a lone ranger. In our Pentateuch class, this meant we had study groups. In the parish, it means we have text study groups, conference pastor meetings, and First Call Theological Education small groups.
None of these is mandatory (except for FCTE, which is required in your first three years as a pastor, and which in my Southwestern Minnesota Synod is wonderful), but all make a big difference. They help us remember that we are not alone! We have backup. We have colleagues. We have community.
One of my favorite parts of our monthly conference meetings is the brief worship service, led by the host pastor(s). This month, we met at First Lutheran Church in Litchfield, and when it was time for communion, we all went up and knelt at the altar rail.
As I sunk down onto the cushioned kneeler, I felt my shoulders relax as the tension I’d been carrying melted away. I think I might even have let out a little sigh. Now, I love serving communion, and of course I also receive communion when everyone else has been served, but I do it standing at the altar with the other communion server. And I don’t mind this at all, but I do love receiving communion in just this way: kneeling at the rail, holding out my hands, ready to receive the bread and wine as the pure gift that they are.
It was a holy moment. What my friend Nan calls a “manna moment.” I am so thankful for the moments like these that fill my days. So, thank you, colleagues! Thank you, community! And thank you, God!