On the pilgrim way: ‘Called by God? At my age? Surely not’
One morning, during my prayer time, I felt called by God – called to be an elder and even a church secretary. Surely not? At my age? (nearly 82). I was well aware of the need: elders’ elections were looming, two key elders were standing down and no one was apparently able or willing to stand. But still…
This call was against at least two of my long-held principles. Firstly, retired ministers should not become elders. Especially not in the church where they had once ministered. There were too many examples of serving ministers (and churches) having difficulties because of them. Secondly, my husband and I have long thought it a bad idea to have both husband and wife on the eldership team at the same time, and my husband is the treasurer. Couples can be too powerful. Or, their personal dynamic/tensions could play out in the meeting.
But my sense of call did not go away and I had long internal discussions with myself. After all, it is 27 years since I ceased being minister of this church. Do I really want this extra work? Do I just want power? I find administration quite easy and not stressful, so why am I denying the church this gift? I am, at present, fit and well – and is 80 not the new 70?
I took all this to the wise nun I see from time to time, to get her help in discerning whether or not this was really God’s call. I usually stay overnight at the convent, so I had lots of silence before and after seeing her. I poured out all the stuff in my head to her: the pros and cons, the doubts etc. Her one question went straight to the heart of the matter: ‘Is this a matter of duty or, in your heart, do you have some joy or excitement or enthusiasm?’ We sat in silence while I tried to get in touch with my heart, with my true feelings. And then I knew it was not duty – it was a new challenge that I looked forward to. It was somehow life-giving.
I then consulted our present minister, who seemed pleased. He put the word around that I was willing to be nominated. However, in the days that followed, I was dismayed to find a bad spirit invading my joy. I realised that offering for a job, rather than being invited or even pressured, made me much more vulnerable. I began to imagine that my good friends in church saw me as pushing myself forward – and pushing them aside.
Then, one morning, one of the elders phoned and said, so warmly, how absolutely delighted she was. I found myself thanking God out loud as I put the phone down. It has all been a learning experience along my pilgrim way.
Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform
This article was published in the April 2020 edition of Reform