The vocation of ministry is a holiness and a gift; it is being a voice for justice for those who have no voice; it is a calling to compassion and service; it is directed to the healing of the wounded, the finding of the lost, the binding up of the broken, and the nurturing of all in justice; it is the work of scholarship and proclamation and teaching; it is the constant struggle against the abuse of power, the resistance to the temptation of false ministry, and the surrender of one's life to trust in God; it is a life lived in prayer and the strong word of God; it is a life marked by servanthood.
I've operated the past years in seminary under the assumption that what I was working toward has been parish ministry. That's been because I'm familiar with it, having already served as the spiritual leader for a congregation and having attended churches and temples and mosques and synagogues for decades (even when there were large stretches between visits). But recently, probably because I'm nearing graduation and the insistent tug to get serious about how I want to serve people, I've begun to see the way parish work is morphing into something else, and I'm not entirely certain there's a place for me in it as it changes.
I love being a preacher, writing sermons, visiting people, being a leader. But I'm also realizing that that isn't the only way I can serve people effectively, especially the people I want to serve, and maybe won't have the opportunity to do so anyway. As a result, I've decided to shift my attention to chaplaincy. My clinical pastoral experience was not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and while I did it without once thinking it would become what I wanted to do, having come to that decision in the past few days has been very quieting. I think my service is better when focused directly on one or two people at a time (although I thrill to large crowds and don't think I'll ever give up giving sermons or performing weddings and funerals).
I've had a difficult time dropping the image of myself primarily as a teacher but as time passes by and I am not in front of classes, I'm finding it--not exactly easy, but less painful, less a sense of loss. I'm feeling much the same about church work. I don't think what I'm meant to do is to start a new church or new way of being together, which is what I think needs to be done by pastors in the future. I'm best at making peoples' lives as solid as possible, to remind them they aren't alone. This is my ministry.