I’m still here
Today marks 41 years since I was ordained to the ministry of ‘word, sacrament and pastoral care’ in the Baptist church. It means many things to me, but one of them is simply the grateful recognition of survival. I have survived where many church leaders predicted I would not. But that religious-political prediction was based on a serious miscalculation. It is not so much that I have survived as that the powers of love and hope that took hold of my life way back then have continued to sustain, challenge and enable me.
Many wonderful things and beautiful people have been part of this journey, or rather journeys. I’ve worked in different parts of the country and been privileged to study and engage with people and projects in many parts of the world, and also different branches of the church.
As a young student, I was identified with the Radical Left in both politics and the church. Denominational leaders saw me and my friends as problems. One of those leaders hatched a plan. There was a small congregation in the western suburbs of Melbourne for which he had some oversight. They wanted a new, student pastor. He wanted them to fold up, and hoped to sell their properties to fund other projects he envisaged. His plan: send me there. He imagined I would make a complete mess of it, alienate the people and cause the church to close. That would finish my career as a pastor before it began virtually. Two problems solved at once!
I’m still here. We had a good time there, and that little church is still operating. We did some exciting things there, including helping kids who were ‘failing’ at school not only to keep going but some actually went to university.
I’m still here, not only because of the persistence bred in me by a pretty tough childhood, but much more because of the love and support of many good people, and even more because of the faithfulness of God. A call to ministry like this is not primarily about what I believe or what I can or want to do. I think it’s quite the other way around.
I’m still here because of what has sustained and held me. It’s not so much the faith I have as the faith that has me. It holds me, provokes me, calls forth from me the thinking, exploring, wishing, caring, dreaming and acting that have made up my life. There is a power, a power that includes love and justice, imagination and reasoning, compassion and care. I live within the scope of this power, this love and hope. That’s the faith that holds me.
In truth, I have known a lot of trauma and grief. There has been much opposition, mostly from people who have never met me, sat in any of my classes or read my work. But all these things are minor in the face of the immense privilege of ministry with people. I have delighted in seeing people who thought they had no hope gradually or even dramatically change, imagine something for themselves, grow and actually achieve their dreams. One young man whose father had told him, ‘You will never be any good,’ not only graduated but went on to postgraduate study. Several ‘high school drop-outs’ have completed their PhDs. What a privilege to see women whose family and culture had them locked in servile roles become leaders at the forefront of change, creativity, community development.
I’m still here and still at it because this creative, life-giving and hopeful reality has sustained me and healed me and allows me to keep going. I thank God.