This post is part of a blog series on Pomomusings, discussing pastoral identity. To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
It is an honor and delight to have this opportunity to reflect on pastoral identity. I am grateful to Adam for offering a blog newbie this chance. It has been a joy to get to know Adam as a colleague in the Presbytery of Chicago and a fellow associate pastor serving along Chicago’s North Shore.
A Pastor or One who Pastors?
I am one that is slow to claim parts of my identity as they emerge. It took me a good two years to feel comfortable being a married person—it felt odd to refer to someone as my husband. With so little experience of being married it felt odd to acknowledge, that while new, it was now part of my identity. I had a similar experience after giving birth to my son—yes, I cared for this little being 24 hours a day, seven days a week—it took a long time for me to process that I was his mother.
So perhaps it is not surprising that it has taken me a long time to understand part of my identity is as pastor. I am in my seventh year of my first call. It took me a good four years before I felt comfortable calling myself a pastor. Before that I pastored and had many moments of feeling very pastoral, but I didn’t fully claim that identity. So I wonder, what has changed? What is the difference for me being a pastor rather than one who pastors?
One word that comes to mind is authority. I now speak to congregation members as one comfortable being their pastor: the one whose call is to be their religious leader with insights, knowledge, compassion and even a little wisdom that they value. Not to say that I have all the answers but when I don’t, I am not embarrassed to acknowledge that fact. I am also not so insecure (anymore) to think that because I don’t have an answer means I am not a good pastor. I have lived into the authority given to me by God and by my congregation to be pastor. I continue to marvel at this- it is such an awesome and sacred gift in which to be entrusted.
Another word is boundaries. These are tricky for pastors! My understanding of boundaries-how to keep them and where they need to be- is ever evolving. The one I struggle with most is time. When I began my call I was a young married woman who was thrilled to be fully engaged with her congregation. I spent a lot of time at church-more than I needed to and more than was probably healthy. Now I have two young children and feel like I have no time. The gift of this is that I have become better at protecting my time and discerning when I need to be at a church event and when someone else can be there. I have a much deeper understanding of the Presbyterian belief “Priesthood of all Believers” and rely on it daily. I find that often the ministry happens better when I get out of the way, and that is a good thing.
Jessica Gregory serves as Associate Pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois. She resides with her husband and two boys in Evanston. She received her Master of Divinity in 2008 from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and previous to seminary taught high school history in Chicago Public Schools.