Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Will You Go.....?

“Will you go where you are sent?”

This question is asked of every Methodist Minister when we candidate for the ministry of this church. And we all say “yes” – because if we do not then we will not be accepted! Of course we do not admit this at the time, saying instead that we really want to serve Jesus and will trust that “God knows best for my life”. But as the years pass this question is not as simple to answer as it might have been at candidature.

This is because we have other obligations that demand responsible choices of us. For example: Is my promise to go where the church sends me greater than my marriage promise to honour my wife in her choices of career, or housing preferences? I also have discoved that there are dark and devious places in this church to which I have given my life: the kind of dark places that will move me to solve other people’s political agendas, or to fill a gap caused by someone else’s mistakes. And so I am drawn into taking responsibility for my assent to the places the church wants to move me. “Will you go” continues to be a question that haunts each of us who work for this church.

After 30 years working for this church, I was again asked this question. My church leadership wanted someone to move immediately to Pretoria to take up a training post. I knew that I would go alone because my wife has a deeply fulfilling job here in Cape Town, and my children are committed to studies at the University of Cape Town. I knew too that I am not free to immediately abandon the congregation that I am serving. I tried suggesting that the job could be done from Cape Town, but the leadership disagreed.

So I did not get the job... mainly because I was given the privilege of being free to choose. And I realise that the tension between freedom of choice and the consequences of my choices will always be with me. And I continue to trust that my life has significance in the dreams of God.


digitaldion (Dion Forster) said...

Thank you for your integrity and courage Pete. It inspires and sustains many of us. I can only speak with authority about how it constantly challenges and renews my vocation and ministry.

You are truly a wonderful friend who continues to make great sacrifices with the right intentions and the regulation of responsible Christian discipline.

Some of us have not been so wise in the past, and we (and the systems into which we were grafted) bear the scars of that lack of courage and integrity.

All that I can say with the fullest and most sincere appreciation is thank you! I look to you for leadership, and I often try to model my thoughts and choices upon what I see and learn from you.

Thank you for not putting the narrow and unrealistic needs of a broken system before the organic, life creating, relationships of your family and church.

Together with you in Christ,


bugs said...

Amen to what Dion said!

It is a pity that the leadership's insistence on you a presence in Pretoria will be robing the greater church from your leadership, but i am encouraged by your courage to make this difficult choice. Thank you for the thoughtfulness with which you live your life.

Steven Jones said...

Hi Pete

Added to the question "will you go WHERE you are sent?" is the one of "will you go FOR AS LONG AS you are sent?".

As a newbie in the ministry, I have more of an issue with the period of time in one place, particularly during probation. While I thankfully don't have to deal with the issue of my wife's employment outside the home, there is the matter of my son's schooling to consider. If I knew that I would be in one place for about three years, relocation of my family would not be an issue. However, with the potential for me to be in Uitenhage for one year (during Phase One), possibly one year in Pietermaritzburg (if I am sent to college), and then a third year somewhere else, such frequent changes in schools can only be detrimental to my son's academic progress. Hence our decision for my wife and son to remain in Johannesburg.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining, and I knew what I would be in for when candidating, but it seems ironic that the Church expresses concern at the separation of families, yet it's practices don't seem to support these concerns (as raised at Conference).

I can therefore appreciate the decision that you had to make. While in my case I didn't have too much choice in the matter (unless I changed my mind about entering the ministry to which I believe that God has called me), but you did, and I admire you for making the right one.

Like Bugs, I also find it strange that with modern communications, we are still so geographically-bound in our thinking sometimes. I have no doubt that there are many jobs where location is not critical (as I presume to be the case for the one you were considered for).

In response to Dion's post, where he thanks you for "not putting the narrow and unrealistic needs of a broken system before the organic, life creating, relationships of your family and church", if many of us recognise that the system is in many ways broken, how do we go about engaging the system with a view to trying to mend it? For example, there are many ways in which the whole "split family" syndrome that is sadly so prevalent in our Church can be addressed - often simply with a little consultation with the persons affected.

Thanks for allowing me to sound off, and may God continue to bless you in your ministry.

Scout with the Cross said...

Boy am I glad I'm an Anglican in the C of E.

Well done Pete, it is a shame though that this sort of thing deflects your energies.

Arthur said...

Pete - a very timely post. Thank-you.

This is but one reason I feel rather "Church-weary", particularly with regard to the denomination in which you serve.

I always wondered why the Church would preach family-unity and yet so often dishonour families through stationing and unrealistic demands. The family unit is a corner-stone of a healthy nation - its time the national leadership of the MCSA understood that!

Well done on making a stand and putting your own family's needs first - an action I consider more God-honouring than hurrying to keep some theologically-trained bureaucrat happy!

barry said...

hey pete.

we are way overdue for a rethink of our stationing procedure.

and along with that - a basic refleciton on our theology of ordination.

when i sit in screening committees and hear what candidates think they are giving themselves to - it scares me!

besides all the mushy stuff the other nice people have said above (which i'm FOR - beyond my current post i will never again go where I am sent by the church. my wife and family will always be my highest consideration from here on)

(he he... fortunately most of the bishops think surfing is something their grand-children do in the sea...) :)

but besides that, i think you are the person to do some work on our desperate need for a theology of ordination. Perhaps DigiDi could offer some assistance. I would love to collaborate with some thoughts... couldn't we provide a "white paper" or something for discussion...

your comments above have been the most sensible and thought through reflection on "going where we are sent" and stationing that i have read...

and i remember your red-pen comments at the bottom of my own ordination assigment - encouraging me to continue to think deeply about what it means to wear a collar... thks!!!