April Casperson, West Ohio Annual Conference
Serving in a theological school in an administrative position means that I have the privilege of being a part of many conversations around the sense of vocation and call. I work alongside faculty who are living out their vocation as teachers, and I serve students who are working out their own vocational discernment while participating in academic formation.
Being a staff member at a theological institution is an “in between” kind of position. At this point in my life, my call is not to teach, but to order and serve in a different way. As a result of being in an administrative position, many people tend to ask me what is next on my own vocational journey. I was ordained a deacon in the West Ohio Annual Conference in 2011, and in my ordination paperwork I made sure to clearly state that I did not know what my future jobs would be. I sensed a call around leadership formation, vocational discernment, and young adult leadership cultivation, but I was and am open to whatever jobs God would send me to for the servant leadership of a deacon. God’s calling is bigger than any of us can imagine, and oftentimes a call to ministry will be carried out in a series of jobs and seasons in one’s life.
I am a young, female, multiracial deacon. As a result, I believe that I view the world from a unique perspective. There are many ways and many places in which I can serve. However, over the last couple of years I have felt God nudging me toward more accountability as to my effectiveness in ministry and service. For many of us, the word effectiveness brings up visions of metrics, dashboards, and tools with which to measure local church outcomes. However, God calls each and every one of us to effectiveness in ministry, according to the gifts and graces which we have been given. For me, effectiveness in ministry means leading from one’s center as an authentic response to the abundant grace we have been given in Jesus Christ.
Within the day-to-day work of ministry, authenticity can slip away incrementally and unexpectedly until we turn around and wonder why we are feeling worn-out, weary, unfocused. Women in ministry cannot be effective when we lose sight of our authentic selves. There have been days when I have wondered how my life in ministry would have been fundamentally different had I been born male, been born white, or been in ministry in a different season of my life. But it is in those moments that I remember God created me in this way, within this particular time and context, for such a time as this . . . if only I lead from my authentic self.
I offer two suggestions for all of us as a gentle reminder for those seasons of our lives when we forget to reflect upon our authentic selves, and what those selves look like in ministry.
First, take the time to read and reflect upon those books that help draw out a sense of naming your authentic vocation. Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak (Jossey-Bass, 1999) is a book many of us have encountered on our journey into ministry. However, if you are in a dark place in your life and feeling weighted down by your own context, this book is worth revisiting. Palmer’s words remind us that we are most authentic—and most effective—when we follow our natural gifts and graces.
Second, seek out the time and friendship of those who care about you. It sounds simplistic, but all women in ministry need a community of people around whom they can be their most authentic selves. These people will speak truth to you for no other reason than for their care for your well-being. These are the colleagues and friends who will ask you how it is with your soul and who will provide the accountability you need. If you are feeling disconnected from your most authentic self, these people are the ones who will help you find the internal spark that reflects the grace of Christ in your life, work, and vocation. Just as the Trinity is three personas in community, humans are meant to be in community with one another in order to serve.
I confess that earlier in my ministry I felt alone and overwhelmed because I didn’t feel as if I saw any female role models—especially young, minority women—serving in the ministries I felt called to. However, God has gently reminded me again and again that ministry is not about simply trying to imitate those who have gone before. It is about authentic service in response to God’s call. We cannot be effective in ministry by going it alone, and we cannot be authentic selves in ministry without caring for that spark of vocation God has placed within each of us.