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 an Masters of Divinity degree and looking forward to being ordained and assigned somewhere where my knowledge of inner city life and ministry could be put to good use. In June, I arrived in rural Saskatchewan to serve the United Church of Canada in three small towns; Beechy (pop 295), Lucky Lake (pop 295) and Birsay (pop less than 50). For the last few months, How the heck did I get here? has been a constant question.
For those unfamiliar with the settlement process, the practice of the UCC for some eighty years has been to send newly ordained clergy to churches who, for some reason, are otherwise unable to call a minister. This arrangement 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, ? will follow where Christ leads me,often I was silently adding, ?o long as it’s within a 60 km 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 situations 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.
I was settled to rural Saskatchewan. 2,800 km from home. Two hours from anything remotely resembling a city.
Now, if I stand on my front porch, in one direction I see our bank, 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 the town ?inancial district.To the left beyond two small houses, snow covered prairie and a big-screen sky that stretches forever. This could not be more unlike what I wanted and expected. And I have never been happier.
The people here teach me daily what it looks like to treat a stranger like family. I’ve learned that no amount of coffee shops or diners beats a meal served from the back of a truck in an open field, shared with men who have been harvesting since dawn. 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. I do miss my spouse and family in the east, but I realize every day that I have been given an extraordinary gift; to experience the world in a whole new way.
Perhaps, sometimes, staying where we are means denying the good things God has in store for us. After all, a call to those of faith to venture out is entirely Biblical. And, it’s what created out church in the first place. George Pigeon, one of the most articulate and passionate of the original church unionists once proclaimed, ?he United Church of Canada is an adventure of faith, and the spirit of adventure characterizes all its going.The only certainty we have, as the venturing out begins, is that God is leading us on, ever patient with our fears, but also joyously ready to reveal new ideas and ways of being.
My graduating class was the last to be subject 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 do 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. I got adventure.