Dear God, in this new season of ministry we call on you to journey with us, we cannot carry on unless you are leading the way. We pray for all the congregations and pastors who are starting a new journey together, we also lift up all those who are returning to continue ministry together. In all circumstances we will place our trust in you. Amen.
A couple years ago, after making a major transition in my career path to pursue a call to ministry, I sat across from my Field Education advisor in his office at seminary. I explained that I was looking for a church internship, that this was all new to me, that I was afraid I was going to be terrible at preaching. Rev. Dr. Polk looked at me, perplexed. His face seemed to say, “Why are you even doing this?” But as I started to open up about my past, about my family’s history of ministry, growing up in the church, and then choosing the academic path for myself, his face softened and he said to me, “Emily, doesn’t it feel like you’re finally coming home?”
Now, as I look forward to beginning my first church appointment in just a few days’ time, I can say yes, in some ways, this is like coming home. I am excited, hopeful and expectant, but at the same time, it is intimidating and scary. Amid the fear and excitement, I find myself turning to the story of Moses and the Israelites in Exodus.
In some ways, the Israelites must have felt like their journey to the promised land of Canaan was a “coming home,” even though their generation had never lived there. This was both the land of their ancestors and the land promised to them by God. Canaan was their past and their future but the path to get there was filled with hardships, feelings of abandonment by God, disobedience, and moments of reconciliation. Coming home was hard, but worth it. My own journey of coming home to ministry has often felt hard, but worth it too, albeit in different ways.
And now, as I step into a new leadership role, I also find myself echoing some of Moses’ fears about what it means to lead people of faith through turbulent times. Every pastor faces major challenges right now – from navigating ministry in a pandemic to guiding people of faith in dismantling systems of racial oppression. As a first-time pastor, these challenges seem all the more daunting.
Moses’ challenge was to continue to lead the Israelites after they had sinned gravely against God by worshiping a statue of a golden calf. God was so fed up that he told Moses and the Israelites to continue their journey without him! Knowing he could not do it alone, Moses called the Israelites to repentance, then went to God in prayer. He said, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me…Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways…Consider too that this nation is your people.” In response, God promised Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”
Reflecting on Moses’ example of leadership, I, too recognize that I cannot lead without God’s presence…or without rest! I recognize that as a leader, I must engage in repentance and also call others to it. But I know that the church is God’s people, that God has been and will continue to be present and working among the congregations I serve. It is not all up to me. So, I keep coming back to God in prayer, asking to be shown God’s ways, asking for God’s continued presence. And I know that the God who faithfully led the Israelites out of Egypt, the God whose presence is made concrete in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, continues to be with us, even now.