I have returned to the first church I served as pastor. Only now, more than 20 years later, I return as co-pastor, serving alongside a young woman who grew up in the community, a teenager when I was there previously. It’s a promising and serendipitous job-share and it’s an arrangement I have sought for a long time.
Pastoral ministry is rewarding work providing varied opportunities for creative expression, service, and leadership. A pastor has a front row seat in peoples’ lives. Where else can you find employment that takes you from the altar to a bedside to a birthday party to a funeral home then to a wedding all in the span of a few days?
It’s the human experience, beginning to end and that makes it incredibly poignant and meaningful work. It’s also difficult.
There is always another visit that needs to be made, one more paragraph to be tweaked in the sermon, one more person seeking counsel, and one last meeting to attend. There are stories of heartbreak that one person shouldn’t have to bear alone and there are situations and circumstances that beg for more than one opinion or mode of leadership. It seems to me the job was intended to be shared.
In the Christmas story that Christians are celebrating this month, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is visited by an angel with the news that she has been chosen to give birth to the Messiah. In the same unexpected visit, she is told about an older cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant.
Given this news, it seems that Mary is guided by the angel to spend time with her cousin; and she does so, choosing to share her first trimester with another woman facing her own outrageous miracle. Although we don’t hear much about the visit, the greeting they share and the response that Mary makes are some of the most beautiful passages of scripture found in the Bible. It’s as if the first story in the Christian faith tradition is a story making the case that in order for the surprises of God to unfold, they must unfold in community. We are encouraged from the very beginning to be in relationship.
Sharing a job like ministry is not easy. We are two separate people with our own personalities, quirks, hang-ups and strengths. We have gotten tangled from time to time because we forgot to keep each other in the loop or pushed ahead with a program without proper communication. We have hurt each other’s feelings.
However, now that I have the opportunity to share this work, I can’t imagine doing the job alone. My colleague has become my spiritual friend, my confidante, and my companion on this remarkable path.
The angel had it right sending Mary to Elizabeth because the truth is that we cannot make manifest the goodness of God by ourselves. The messenger understood what we all somehow know, we are stronger and better together than we can ever be alone.
Lynne Hinton is a co-pastor of Mt. Hope United Church of Christ in Whitsett (Guilford County) and author. Her newest book, on shelves in January 2017, is called Traveling Light. Learn more: www.lynnehinton.com