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Is it a calling? Ron Gilder discusses life in the clergy.
What called me to the ministry?
It was a clergyman who, at the time of a personal bereavement, said to me, “I would have visited you, but I was too busy.”
Many years ago, a young man knocked on my door. Inviting him in I asked him to sit down. I asked how I could help him. As he talked, I found this man was so angry with the world, he was shaking. The answer to his problems was to smash my face in and have him sent back to prison.
Remembering that encounter I have asked myself questions about my call to ministry, my training, and what happened as a result of training. After four years of training, I arrived in my first parish with 25 bibles, a Concordance and many books. All to give fulltime ministry my best.
My first week after ordination a woman said to me after having a miscarriage, she felt numb. Another time it was sitting in the back of a tractor cab discussing with the driver what it means to be a good husband and father. It was the start of many perplexing statements and questions I faced over many years.
Each day brought new challenges, some of these were.
- Consoling a woman who jumps to her feet screaming about the people she hates.
- Talking to a husband who admits he is a master deceiver.
- A dying man who held my hand and told me “There is one thing in life money can’t buy”.
- A man who travelled from Auckland to Dunedin to drown himself in Otago Harbour.
- A family asking, “Why did our brother take his own life?”.
- “I’ve had two lots of chemotherapy. It hasn’t worked. What should I do?”
- “Why did you help that man? He deserves what he gets!”
- “Why do you bother to visit the unchurched?”
- Being called to a family altercation at 4am.
The list goes on. Some came to me because they simply saw my name on the church notice board. This didn’t only happen to me. A colleague friend came and told me about counselling a young man for two years. On leaving home, in another city, he took his own life. My colleague, until his death, blamed himself for the young man’s death. He wondered “What did I do wrong, what could I have done?”
Many of the people I walked the hard road of life with I will never forget.
It has been said that the Bible is out of date and that, for much of it, might be true. However, in the gospels there is the account of a man named Jesus, a Galilean carpenter. There is the account of his of his life, things he did and the stories he told. Many of them give a warm feeling to the reader at their meaning. But to really gain insight from the story, for me, I need to enter the world of each character.
To read about the Good Samaritan there are many characters; each one is an important part of the whole story. Of all the characters I can decide which one I am and in doing so can define who I am. Am I Jesus or maybe I’m not? I may identify with the thieves.
The beauty of this story is the opportunity to change and redefine who I am. This story of Jesus is about his healing ministry, his willingness to cross boundaries that keep people apart. This story is a modern-day story. They challenge me.
The last time I saw my favourite jersey was the back view of it. It was on the man who was going to assault me. He wore it as he walked away from me. Without thinking I had taken my jersey off and given it to him. His need was greater than mine.
“We can live in a world as it is, but we can still work to create a world as it should be.” (Barrack Obama.) Woman and men enter ordination ministry for all kinds of reasons. It is what we choose to do with it that makes the difference.
- Rev Ron Gilder is a retired Dunedin presbyterian minister.