Clay tends to be stubborn at time. At the artists' retreat I recently attended many of us discovered being a potter definitely teaches humility. There were times when I was determined to throw a cylinder on the wheel. But no,matter how much I tried, what I wanted to become a cylinder, seemed to want to become a bowl. I would carefully check my hand position and the way I was using hand pressure to raise the walls. It didn't matter. No matter what I did, the cylinder would insist on becoming a bowl. And if I pushed things too hard, determined to enforce my will on the clay, it wouldn't become anything but a soggy lump of clay, sitting in the wheel's center.
During my time in pastoral ministry I've had ample opportunities to humility. And if any pastor says he or she has experienced something else, he or she must have a very selective memory. When we first enter seminary, humility comes easily. As a brand new seminarian I could see everyone around me obviously knew a lot more than I did. But as time passed, and as I entered my final year of studies, my hat size seemed to grow exponentially. I thought I knew everything! And when the professors started to turn to me in class for answers, as they did with all other students in their final year, my ego expanded to the size of Manhattan. Thanks be to God my first congregation, the First Presbyterian Church of Watseka, Illinois, was loving, tolerant, and forgiving. They graciously helped my head to deflate to a realistic size and continued to love me even as I made some whoppers of mistakes. I will always be grateful for their loving introduction to the realities of parish ministry.
As an interim pastor I've also had ample opportunities to learn how disastrous it is to chase after positions I decide would be ideal for me, instead of listening to God's gentle,and occasionally not so gentle, hints about what congregations I am called to serve. I have almost lost track of how many times I have pursued calls which I thought would be perfect for me, only to find that by not getting them I had narrowly missed stepping into what would have been a disaster,
On most of those attempted ventures into congregational quicksand, God has been gracious enough to prevent me from merrily following my own will down the path to disaster. But on one occasion, despite hearing all sorts of warning bells, I jumped right into a call I thought was perfect. It may be that God decided I needed a strong lesson about Who was in charge. Or perhaps it was simply my own stubbornness in action. From the very first time I opened my mouth to speak in worship I knew I was in trouble. As Saint Benedict, and the author of Proverbs put It, it was a way which seemed right, but the end result was a literal plunge into the depths of pastoral hell. I had never thought I would be grateful to be fired from a pastorate. But although I am sure it was not so intended, being fired was the most wonderful thing they could have done for me.
Have I learned that lesson so well I will never repeat it? As I am human, the answer is probably "no." But I did learn to pay more heed to those pesky alarm bells, and to listen when it seems God is be pointing me in a specific direction. Thank you Lord for your lessons, although I pray that if possible they might be a bit more gentle than the last one. And thank you Father Benedict for the Rule's lessons on humility and on following God's will instead of our own.Clic