UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Finish This Sentence

“If my child said she wanted to be a minister . . . my thoughts would be conflicted.”

By Connie denBok

How does a minister react when her offspring chooses the same vocation? First and foremost, I’d be filled with hope and joy that God calls each new generation to serve. Then, a sense of trepidation would creep in because I know this call has never been easy, and it’s becoming harder.

I was ordained weeks before my 24th birthday, trained and mentored by professors, colleagues and congregations who knew how the United Church worked. They were extravagant with their prayers, wise counsel and willingness to clean up after youthful exuberance.

Anyone who thinks that young ministers miss the opportunity to experience “the real world” knows nothing of those early years when people old enough to be our parents trust us with secrets too dreadful to be spoken at home. What is the world of business next to a calling that takes one — in a single day — from mourning at a deathbed, to feasting and dancing at a wedding banquet, to rising bleary the next morning to bless a newborn with the waters of baptism? Who else experiences their own humiliating inadequacy in the maw of human pain, or the feeling of awe when the Spirit bridges that void with words and wisdom far beyond one’s own?

If ordered ministry were a profession like other professions, I might tally the pros and cons on a ledger.

Pro: Employment prospects are favourable for young people willing to leave major centres. United Church ministers are leaving the pastorate faster than congregations are closing, creating job openings that promise steady employment — plus pension and benefits — for many years to come. How many career tracks are open to graduates of the humanities? (I might also cynically observe that many congregations are so scarred by ministers whose personal neediness and lack of social skills and faith in God make it easy for others to look good just by being functional, caring persons of faith.)

Con: Too many congregations are barely viable, and yet they’re searching for someone to refurbish them to vintage glory. They will tell prospective ministers, “We seek a strong leader who will not change what we do; a minister who will attract young people to worship in the style of seniors; a biblical preacher who will not stretch our beliefs or challenge our habits; an outgoing personality who will lead others to faith, but not through evangelism.”

More cons: low financial return for years of education; the prospect of living far from home for decades; social loneliness; and no clear concept of what professional success looks like in an institution that is rudderless, diminished and out of energy.

I dream of another kind of church for my children and their generation: one that is untainted by the politics and power plays that have marred our ironically named denomination; where the preservation of real estate and pensions is not the highest good. I dream of leaders who, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, would give up everything for a pearl of greater price. I dream of the church of Saint Benedict and Saint Francis, of John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr.; the kind of church so close to the front lines of life and faith that one may be felled by live ammunition.

If my child said that she wanted to be a minister, enter discernment and seminary, and seek church employment, I would try to hide my disappointment.

But if my child confessed a call from God to create a new future of faith connected to the crucified one, I would add my breath to those dreams, like dandelion seeds blown off their stem, to watch with fear and delight wherever they might land.

Rev. Connie denBok is a minister at Alderwood United in Toronto.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image