Leaving seminary—and still learning daily

I’m a little over a month into my first position as an ordained pastor. Before I started, I knew I would be learning a lot. But let’s just say that expecting information overload and experiencing it are two different things.

Over the last six weeks, the congregation has been more than welcoming and kind. I’m also getting much better acquainted with what the congregation and community needs from me as a pastor—and what I can reasonably expect from myself.

The most frustrating part at this point is how inefficient I am at basically everything. It takes me much longer than I would like to do almost anything. Not only do I have to do a lot—I have to figure out how to do it before it need to get done.

Let’s take confirmation, for instance. I have some background with it as a student and leader. I went through confirmation myself when a lot of congregations were doing a more free form, social-hour style of confirmation. I helped teach confirmation during my year of internship in seminary.

But I’ve never worked from a curriculum and been solely responsible for the program. It’s on me to learn about the lesson plan we have for the year, recall what I learned about it from seminary, and be able to present it to the kids in a way that’s interesting, memorable and informative. I enjoy it but I’m learning as I go. Some of my efforts work and some don’t.

Another good example is funeral planning. Sadly, we’ve had two parishioners pass away since I arrived. By the time this is posted, we’ll have had both funerals at our church. Now, in anticipation for whenever our next one will be, I’m putting together a list of suggested scripture and hymns, in case families have a hard time deciding what they’d like for the service. I’ve also put together a template for the service with some extra, optional elements included. Basically, as Present-Day Erin, I’m trying to make Future Erin’s life simpler for demanding situations.

At the time when I’m writing this, we are still putting together the details on our midweek Lent services. Another perfect instance of learning as I go: figuring out what to do for ashes if the congregation has no palm leaves left over from last year’s Palm Sunday. (Normally, you save and dry them, burn them, strain them through a sieve, and grind them into a fine powder.)

If you have nothing on hand, the answer is: buy them online. Our denomination’s publishing house sells them for $10 per 100 people’s worth of ashes plus tax and shipping. These are the kinds of everyday things I’m working out as I go.

When I got ordained, I had a friend from seminary preach. When she herself was ordained, she received some words of wisdom from another of our classmates. This classmate told her, “During the first year, it’ll feel like you’re in the ocean getting hit with waves from behind. You won’t really know they’re coming until they hit you. The second year, at least you’ll be able to see the big waves coming so you can brace yourself.”

I’m starting to see the truth of it. When people ask me how I’m settling in, I tell them it’s going well (which it is), but it’ll realistically take me a full year to get into a groove. The church year lasts 365 days and each season and holiday is something new. Even seemingly quiet days can bring the unexpected. I’m realizing I won’t get a handle on things until I’ve experienced a full cycle of everything. Even then, I have no doubt that each week (or maybe day) will bring something new. It’s a little overwhelming, but I’m excited.