This post is part of Mennonite Church USA’s #BeTransformed series.
Rachel Ringenberg Miller serves as denominational minister for ministerial leadership for Mennonite Church USA. She focuses on engaging conferences and congregations, providing resources and services to meet the diverse demands facing congregations today. She graduated from Goshen (Indiana) College and Eastern Mennonite Seminary, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with an MDiv. She served as associate pastor for Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church and as pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas. She is a member of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas.
I stare at the open U-Haul trailer. The trailer contains all our worldly possessions. It is an overwhelming sight. So. Much. Stuff. How/when did our family of four accumulate all this stuff? I honestly have no idea. I turn to look at my husband and say, “Let’s never move again.” He meets my gaze and replies, “Agreed.” And then, along with paid movers, friends and family, we unload the items from the U-Haul into our new home.
I am fairly confident my husband and I had the exact same conversation when we moved from Portland, Oregon, to Newton, Kansas, six years prior to our move to Goshen, Indiana. Moving across several states is kind of like childbirth, you forget how painful and all-consuming it is until you are in the moment, pushing, grunting and, all the while, wondering why in the world you ever thought this was a good idea. But you do it anyway, because you are already committed and the only way to alleviate the pain is to dive deep into it.
The pain for me, each time, was saying goodbye to the people and faith community that I deeply loved. I didn’t want to leave these congregations. Just the thought of saying goodbye to them brought me to tears. And when it was time for me to make the official announcement that I was leaving, I was a sobbing and snotty mess. And yet, God was calling me elsewhere, and I had to respond to God’s call. To quote Ruth, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people” (Ruth 1:16, NRSV). This has been the understanding of my call to ministry since I entered seminary, some 18 years ago.
I’m not in control, and it’s foolish for me to think so.
Relinquishing control has been transformative. Trusting God has been transformative. Trusting God has allowed me to make these risky moves across the United States. It gave me the courage to move to places that are deeply unfamiliar and the faith to know that all will be well. I’ve come to understand that God’s movement cannot be stopped, so I may as well join in.
On the wall of our current living room we have pictures of the fauna from Virginia, Oregon, Kansas and Indiana — an ode to the places we have lived. In each location, we experienced transformation. We were new parents, and now, we are the first to offer to hold a fussy baby. (We’ve been there, and it’s rough.) I went from being the youngest in the room to the oldest. With each experience, my calling went from a sense of obligation, to follow the call, to a deep love. I love congregational ministry. I think everyone should do it.
There is nothing like being with a group of people who are trying to follow Jesus to the best of their ability.
Ministering in congregational settings has transformed me in such a way that when I had the option to take a job that gives me the opportunity to support pastors in congregational ministry, I had to take it. Even though saying yes meant moving again. It meant packing up our belongings and explaining to our children why this move is a good thing. It meant tearful goodbyes.
Accepting the job as the denominational minister of ministerial leadership for Mennonite Church USA meant I was stepping away from congregational ministry, which may not make sense, as I just went on about how much I love congregational ministry. But here’s the thing: I said yes, because I want every pastor to love congregational ministry as much as I do. My hope is that, in this role, I can join in the transformational work of God that happens when a person says yes to God and enters congregational ministry.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.