An unexpected pastoral blessing in Kansas City

Jul 1, 2015 by

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I was not prepared to be called forward in front of 4,500 people. I was sitting on the far edge of the room where the air conditioning didn’t quite reach, wearing the almost neon yellow jersey of the Colombian national soccer team, and in a fit of pre-convention planning, I had dyed my hair bubblegum pink.

During the opening worship on June 30 at Mennonite Church USA’s Kansas City, Mo., convention, none of the pastors were prepared for the spotlight. We hadn’t been warned that we would receive a special blessing or that we would have to stand in the front of the hall of the joint worship session to receive it. As they called forward the credentialed leaders in the denomination, I had a fleeting urge to shrug deeper in my seat and pretend I hadn’t been credentialed for two years. I very well might have, except for the half-dozen faces of my youth group, who poked my arm and reminded me, “Hillary, that means you.”

Being blessed is often awkward. Being blessed by the largest gathered body of MC USA, standing with dozens of other pastors being unable to explain why you’re wearing a sweaty Colombian soccer jersey and pink hair, was the most awkward of the many blessings I’ve received. I often feel unprepared for blessings; they remind me how small and underqualified I am to do God’s work. As MC USA denominational ministers, Nancy Kauffmann and Terry Shue, began to speak to us, I remembered the weight of my installation service, when I was hired at Lombard (Ill.) Mennonite Church. At that time, I stood out looking over the bright Sunday morning faces of the congregation who’d said yes to me. In this moment, I looked out over thousands of shadowy, backlit teenage and adult faces whom I also am called to serve. I faced the church that licensed me in a truer way than I ever had before — the gathered people who gifted me to the privilege of working full time for the kingdom of God. I looked into the crowd that seemed to stretch for a mile, thinking: these are the ones who saw a God spark in me, nurtured it over many conventions, who are now trusting God enough to watch a silly-looking 20-something pastor with pink hair and believe God was at work. I could look out into the crowd of awkward, mumbling teenagers and say, “Who knows what God will make of you, in all your shortcomings? God will make something great.”

This was, after all, what had compelled me to dye my hair. In the tumultuous spiritual journey of pastoring, I wanted a tangible reminder that God’s kingdom is big enough for me, no matter how incompetent and underprepared I feel. At my most absurd, God does not stop working in me. As we returned to our seats, the MC USA staff handed us ribbons that said “Still Saying Yes.” In the midst of a church on edge, I love this reminder — we are still saying “yes.” As pastors, we continue to say “yes” each day to whatever God has in store.

It’s also a reminder, in the midst of an intractable theological dilemma, in the midst of an angry and sad church, in the midst of thousands of screaming teenagers, God is still asking us. God doesn’t regret the decision to call each pastor to ministry. God doesn’t look down on the credentialed leaders of Mennonite Church USA and say, “If I could do that over, I would do it differently.” God says, “I want them to stay. I chose every single one of these children to walk with my church through a difficult time, and I still want them on that journey.” God is still asking us to say “yes.”

In the evening worship’s skit, we saw a reality TV show about choosing the best contestants to be disciples. We watched Peter, a smelly fisherman; Judas, a conniving accountant; and Matthew, a Roman hireling and tax collector all called into Jesus’ company. Jesus didn’t pick conventional disciples. If our leadership looks a little unconventional, a little awkward, a little embarrassed to receive a blessing from the most public embodiment of MC USA — that doesn’t reflect poorly on God. In fact, it reflects the very image of God.

God is present in Kansas City. Be assured, God is present and God is blessing us. The church is gathered, in its off-kilter awkwardness, and God has asked us, “Will you still say ‘yes’ to following me?” The answer is ours to give.

Hillary Watson is a full-time Mennonite pastor in suburban Chicago. She is live-tweeting convention @stuffmennossay, and blogs at gatheringthestones.com.


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