Reflection for Vocation Sunday by Good Shepherd Seminary Candidate Jen Moore
The Beloved Community
At first glance, my resume seems disjointed. I have a degree in Architectural History, and worked as a community organizer before heading up recruitment efforts for the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I also managed a membership network for TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit which helped community groups and social service agencies establish networks of mutual exchange. Most recently, I have simultaneously worked as the communications coordinator and office administrator at Faith Lutheran, as a choir director here, and as a pet sitter. It’s enough to make a life coach cry!
The only way to make sense of these seemingly disparate choices is to understand them through the lens of community. My interest in historic architecture lies more with the stories of people who inhabited the built landscape than in the features of the landscape itself, which is why, when I studied successful revitalization projects, I would feel righteous anger on behalf of displaced communities. As a Lutheran Volunteer, I channeled that anger into community organizing, believing it was more important to preserve neighbors than to preserve buildings. As an LVC staff member, I touted the benefits of intentional community in organizing for justice. When I began to recognize subtle ways in which programs like LVC helped to perpetuate structural racism, I found refuge in TimeBanking, which gave structure to ideals like equality and cooperation. Even in my current work, I find fulfillment in the moments when, through my communications, or through music-making, a part of community that had begun to unravel gets woven together again. In my professional life, I have consistently been drawn to work that leads to meaningful community, in part because I have always been lucky enough to be a part of such communities, but mostly because it’s in community that we experience God’s love mirrored in one another.
So where do all of these seemingly random but thematically related jobs lead, you ask? I have been asking myself that same question for many years! I have tossed around plenty of options – advocacy, social work, more community organizing, even politics – but the one option I was pointedly ignoring was the one option that was pitched to me repeatedly. Many times. By MANY different people. That option is pastoral ministry.
At the risk of sounding irreverent, if there were an internet meme to describe my call story, it would probably read, “I don’t always respond to God’s call, but when I do, it’s usually with a rude gesture.” I won’t bore you with the incredibly long list of signs and wonders that have pointed to this call, but I would like to highlight one that is just plain ridiculous. At some point, maybe in college, but likely as a Lutheran Volunteer, I took a personality test. When the results were mailed out, the evaluation included a list of possible career matches. Right there, second on the list, it read “Lutheran Pastor.” I’m not even kidding. It doesn’t get much clearer than that!
In spite of this, and a long list of pastors and other church-y people suggesting it, I didn’t want to see myself as a pastor. I had an arsenal of excuses – “The church is racist and patriarchal!” or “My husband’s in school!” or “The church is stagnant!” With very few exceptions, the churches I had encountered did not treat the weaker and more marginalized members of the body of Christ as indispensable (1 Cor.12:22). If anything, these churches held the poor at arm’s length through their charitable giving, using money to create distance, making the church a refuge for the comfortable. I enjoyed being in worship and fellowship with other Lutherans, but I didn’t believe that the church was where I would find radical, change-making community. I believed that a career in pastoral ministry was tantamount to selling out.
Then, suddenly, my life turned upside down. In 2009, my husband, Noah, and I bought a house, and less than a year later, our seven-year-old nephew accidentally set fire to his family’s house and severely injured his sister. She spent the next eight months in the hospital, and he spent the next two years living with us. To say that we were unprepared would be a gross understatement. It was devastating. Josh came with a tremendous amount of emotional baggage, and not much else. Caring for his physical, emotional, educational and legal needs stressed our finances and our marriage to the breaking point. I left my demanding but “important” job to work at a Lutheran church so that I could be more available and less stressed out. I did feel like a sell-out.
A few months after Josh finally moved back home, Noah lost his job, beginning a three-year slide into financial ruin as our lifestyle truly unraveled. While he languished in a deep depression, I took on one, then two, extra jobs, with the occasional odd job in my “free” time. Last autumn, when it became clear that we were going to lose the house, we put it up for sale. After five months on the market, it finally sold. We went to closing one day before foreclosure proceedings were scheduled to begin.
As terrible as the last several years have been, I am grateful for them, because, like Paul, I feel like my eyes have been opened to Christ’s presence in my life. In the midst of this dark and desperate time, this community at Good Shepherd has been like a lifeline. In her autobiography, legendary social activist, Dorothy Day, wrote: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. God’s love is RIGHT HERE in every ear that listens to my never-ending litany of woes, in every cup of coffee that’s poured out in welcome, in every bag of clothing that we ever received for Josh, and in the countless gifts and gestures of support that we have received. God’s love is made perfect in us when we come together in community to serve one another and those beyond our church walls. That’s a pretty radical notion.
And so, I’ve come to see my arsenal of excuses not as reasons to run away from God’s call to pastoral ministry, but to embrace it. Yes, the church struggles with racism, misogyny, self-absorption and a whole host of other sins that undermine community, but so did Paul, and so do I. God comes to each of us on our personal Damascus roads to use both our strength AND our brokenness to serve, connect and heal the Body of Christ wherever we find it. We just have to get over our fear of being uncomfortable if we are to build the beloved community that God calls us to be. Pastoral ministry is a way for me to walk with my community through that locked door, out of the fishing boat, away from the shore, and out into the places where God’s people are waiting.
On Friday, I received an offer of admission to the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to begin a Masters of Divinity program starting in the fall. <applause?> I. Am. Terrified! But I know that God will continue to use me to build his beloved community, and I am deeply grateful for all your support.