Today I’m pondering that age-old question, asked by humans of every time and almost every place: “How the heck did I get here?”
A year ago, I was living in downtown Toronto, finishing a master of divinity degree and looking forward to being ordained and assigned someplace where my knowledge of inner-city life and ministry could be put to good use. Last June, I arrived in rural Saskatchewan to serve The United Church of Canada in three small towns: Lucky Lake (pop. 295), Beechy (pop. 243) and Birsay (pop. less than 50). Over the last few months, “How the heck did I get here?” has been a constant question.
The practice of the United Church for some 85 years has been to send newly ordained clergy to churches that, for whatever reason, are otherwise unable to call a minister. The settlement process made sense in the early years of the church when most graduates were either single or the head of their household. But now most graduating ministers have substantial ties to home, spouses with careers of their own, children in school, parents in need of care.
Along with most of my graduating class, I knew exactly how I felt about settlement. I didn’t want to do it. As I stood in our school chapel enthusiastically singing, “I will follow where Christ leads me,” often I was silently adding, “so long as it’s within a 60-kilometre radius of where I am right now.”
It’s not that I wasn’t up for being challenged by God. I learned years ago that a spiritually aware life is not for sissies. I just couldn’t imagine that what God wanted was for me to be sent far away from my family, thrust into an unfamiliar situation and forced to abandon all the plans and dreams I had for myself. Surely, what God wanted was for me to stay near home, safe and secure. I believed this. In spite of everything I’d ever read about God in the Bible.
Now, if I stand on my front porch, in one direction I see a bank, a post office, a small grocery store and a bar. There is also a store that specializes in computer supplies and saddles. For some reason, people find this combination convenient. I call this our “financial district.” In the other direction, I see snow-covered prairie and a big-screen sky that stretches forever. This could not be more unlike what I wanted or expected. And I have never been happier.
The people here teach me daily what it looks like to treat a stranger like family. And that quiet around you can nurture quiet inside you. As I drive the back roads on my pastoral care calls, sometimes I am the only human being in the vast, awe-inspiring landscape. It’s magical.
Perhaps, sometimes, staying where we are means denying the good things God has in store for us. After all, a call to venture out in faith is entirely biblical. And it’s what created our church in the first place. Our denomination’s first moderator, Very Rev. George Pidgeon, once proclaimed, “The United Church of Canada is an adventure of faith, and the spirit of adventure characterizes all its going.”
My graduating class was the last to be subjected to mandatory settlement. This spring, ordinands may choose to enter the settlement process or look for a position they feel best suits their needs. I think choice is a good thing. But I must confess, I am glad I didn’t have one.
As I look out at the endless prairie I have so quickly come to love, I still ask, “How the heck did I get here?” But the answer comes easily. I got here because God wanted more for me than I wanted for myself.
Rev. Anne Hines is a minister, columnist and the author of five books. She lives in Lucky Lake, Sask.
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