I have about a week and a half left of my summer placement and it’s paperwork time. I’ve been thinking over some of the ‘big’ things from the placement as well as the individual tasks and activities. My mind was working overtime last night and I couldn’t really settle to sleep. The family are back home (or continuing their holiday) after their extended stay here in Brussels and I was on my own again. I was thinking that I’d now like to be back home as well. But I don’t mean that in any negative sense; I’m not homesick and pining for my own house; nor am I desperate to finish here and be away. As I was thinking this over last night, I realised it’s been a factor in all my placements so far.
I have thoroughly enjoyed every placement I have been on. I have learnt so much about ministry, about people and about myself. How could you not do so? Every place is different, with different challenges and different personalities. Each has been supervised by someone who has challenged me, but has always encouraged and affirmed me. Anyone who looks on placements as simply jumping through the appropriate hoops is missing out on an invaluable learning and growing experience. (As an aside, the same is true of the academic work – a few people I know just ‘want to get through it’, but surely that devalues the whole process and implies that there is nothing to be learnt from others?) So why would I be restless to finish up and move on?
MrsG was asking similar questions recently and I can strongly relate to this. Part of the candidate process is about moving you away from your home church, freeing you from the ties that you have and preparing you to move on into your own ministry. The downside, I think, is that you can then experience a strong sense of disconnection during this time. It can feel like a restlessness or unsettledness wherever you are. You never really ‘belong’ wherever you are, even if that is your home church for a time. Part of the problem is knowing that wherever you are it’s not ‘your place’. It’s unlikely that you’ll be back and it’s very unlikely that that place will be ‘yours’ one day. It could (and does) happen, but in all likelyhood, you’ll be somewhere else entirely with only memories and friendships to maintain the connection.
There is then a balance to be struck. Much as you may want to invest in relationships, knowing their impermanence makes that difficult, I think. Pastoral relationships become ‘professionalised’, in a sense. And that is also dissatisfying, I’d say. Wrestling with this, even subconsciously, must surely feed that sense of restlessness, of not belonging?
It occurs to me though that being aware of this tension and its resolution must, ultimately, be a good thing. Is this not at the heart of a calling to ministry? The sense of being called to serve God in a particular place, in a particular ministry will only be resolved when that restlessness abates, when the sense of belonging comes through when the right parish profile is read or the right church is visited.
It’s that sense of ‘rightness’ when the call is first answered and other things are set aside. It’s the coming together of theological understanding out of the mish-mash of ideas that we are bombarded with. It’s the lightbulb moment when we struggle with preparing worship and a thought falls into place that suddenly makes our scripture reading meaningful. It’s that sense of walking with God for once rather than stumbling in the opposite direction.
Perhaps that restlessness can also be our warning sign. It’s what motivates us to continue seeking God’s will; constantly question our understanding of our ministry; challenge us to keep things moving. If it ever truly disappears and we feel settled have we just stopped listening to God? Have we found our comfort zone at last; the place where we can rest unchallenged? Stewart’s been thinking about the revolutionary Jesus, but I wonder if what we are really challenged about is complacency? The unchallenged acceptance of where we are, what’s happening around us and what others are doing.
That’s a long way from feeling that it’s time to get back home, but at the heart of it must surely be whether we are listening to the Spirit with us or simply doing what we want to do.