This post is part of a blog series on Pomomusings, discussing pastoral identity. To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
Relationship. That has always been at the core of my pastoral identity and ministry. It comes in a variety of forms—trying to be in deep relationship with God and tapped into God’s hope for my life; nurturing the relationships between me and my colleagues and doing whatever I can to help strengthen the relationships they share with each other; learning about and loving “my people” and making it a priority to be in regular, ongoing, sustained relationships with those for whom I get to be pastor. Relationship.
All of it flows from my understanding of who God is as triune. At Columbia Seminary, in 1997, I remember hearing the word “perichoresis” for the first time (thank you Shirley Guthrie!). I was quite amazed at this God-in-community way of thinking about who God is at God’s very core. I loved the articulation of God as a holy and mutual dance. That new image helped me lay down some of the hierarchical and patriarchal baggage I was carrying around due to the Father-Son-Spirit triangle image always presented.
So relationships have always been crucial to who I am as pastor; and I am leaving out the critical relationships of spouse and mother (that is another blog). These days, however, I find myself in a new space. What does a pastoral identity that has always been defined and nurtured by “relationship” look like in a big congregation? It still blows my mind that many of “my people” do not know me beyond what they experience from the pulpit, nor I them. And furthermore, for some of them, that is more than enough! ☺
So as I continue in this still–new ministry place (about 9 months into it), I find that I am having to rethink and/or reclaim this relationship piece in all of its facets. I have to get even more intentional and determined to ground myself daily in the relationship I have with the One who created me and who claims my life. This daily spiritual grounding is crucial for me these days as I live in this new kind of wonderful chaos and come face to face with a variety of expectations. And I am also doing serious work developing trusting, collegial, and good-humored relationships with my great colleagues and doing whatever I can to help us strengthen our team.
But what am I doing about growing relationships with “my people?” For now, I am trying to be okay with developing relationships with those who have relationships with “my people.” In other words, I am spending one-on-one time with ruling elders, trustees, deacons, and other leaders in the congregation as I slowly continue to wade into this ministerial call. But in the long term, that is not going to be enough for me. I will not be satisfied with not knowing more of “my people.”
Those regular, ongoing, sustained relationships are still very important to me and to my sense of who I am as Pastor/person. Those relationships inform my teaching, my preaching, my prayers, etc. I will have to discover ways to make space for that kind of work. But I am trying to be patient with myself. I just cannot get complacent about it. If I do that, then my pastoral self dries up. And I won’t be living out God’s image with integrity.
Shannon Johnson Kershner is the new’ish Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. More importantly than that, she is the mother of teenage Hannah and 10 year old Ryan, as well as the 20 year partner of Greg, whom she met at Mo-Ranch church camp almost 30 years ago. Having spent the last 4 ½ years in the mountains of Western North Carolina (Black Mountain/Montreat!), they are still settling into life in the big, exciting, wonderfully chaotic city of Chicago. Life is certainly an adventure!