For the season of Lent, I’ll be taking over the Monday Musings blog from Pastor Anna. Partially, I’m doing this as a reflective exercise for my Field Experience in Ministry course (a big thank you to PA and the LUMC community for supporting me in this), and partially, I’m giving PA a much needed break, as she stands in for Pastor Matt’s responsibilities, while continuing her own, during his paternity leave. I think we can all agree that Pastor Anna is spinning enough plates at the moment.

In one fantastic Sunday, I managed to reach two milestones of my time on staff at Linworth: I took a role in leading worship this week (spoiler alert: there’s more of that coming), and I lead us our first meeting of our Lenten small groups. What surprised me about these experiences was that, though I engaged with the material for both worship and the groups ahead of time, and felt I knew what to expect, executing it with you all made the material new to me. As I sat in with one of the small groups I was facilitating, I confessed to them that I was having a hard time responding to the questions that *I* wrote. Which, on the one hand, meant I had accomplished my goal of designing challenging, provoking material for reflection and discussion, but on the other hand, it reminded me that no matter how much I learn about walking in the way that leads to life, my journey is never over.

It was a moment of humility, and one of reassurance for me. To be completely honest, one of the fears I’ve held around going into vocational ministry, is a fear of my own pride. I have seen firsthand how knowledge and power can guide those in leadership straight toward arrogance. I’ve also seen leaders fail to actually lead, forsaking structure in the name of humility. It’s a delicate balance, and one which I have been afraid to confront. The power of the church, however, lies in its capacity to keep its leaders remain humble if they allow themselves to be held accountable to the scripture they’re charged with teaching. Learning from the participants of the groups last night reminded me of this.

In a Christian community, regardless of our role, we’re all bound to each other by the saving grace that we’ve received through our faith in the person of Jesus Christ. This means we all know that we belong to a God who meets us where we are and patiently coaches us through and in spite of our iniquities. A God who shows up to hold our hands in times of trial. Regardless of race, sex, class, gender, orientation, nationality, age, status, or any other factor, we are all vital members of this body, and building God’s kingdom requires us all. This was so clearly demonstrated in the way that our small groups courageously engaged with the material, each person reflecting on the fruits of the spirit, and dimensions of wellness, and then doing the hard work of identifying strengths and weaknesses so that they can begin to engage in meaningful practices of growth.

Last night renewed in me a commitment to recognize the opportunity and gift I have in my work to learn something from each person I encounter. It also made me recall one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, Accidental Saints, by Lutheran Pastor and author, Nadia Bolz-Weber. She writes, “My spirituality is most active, not in meditation, but in the moments when: I realize God may have gotten something beautiful done through me… what I do have is a group of people who gather with me every week, people who will mourn and pray with me over the devastation of something like a school shooting, and when I end up changed by loving someone I’d never choose out of a catalog but whom God sends my way to teach me about God’s love.”

This was not the plan I had for my life originally, or even the plan I had five years ago. I avoided God’s call for a season, but I am so grateful that I took the leap of faith which brought to Linworth UMC in 2017. You all have given me the space and resources I have needed to follow my call into ministry, and I’m so very grateful to be able to give back through these groups and to continue to receive all that each of you teaches me, and I hope you know deep in your bones that you are vital and you are loved.

Grace + Peace,

Shelby