I work for a non-profit. My job title is “Community Organizer.” And in one year, I’ve learned that this can mean almost anything.
For instance, Jamie and I thought it was a good idea to get some whole life insurance. We’d cover any death or disability and be saving for retirement at the same time. The application process was a pain and included a nurse in our home one morning at 7:45. Nonetheless, we thought we’d finally jumped through all the hoops when I got a letter in the mail. “Because of your job classification, your rates may change. Your insurance representative will be contacting you shortly.” I guess community organizing is a dangerous job – never mind that my specific position is federally funded. I can’t lobby. I don’t lead protests. And the biggest political controversy I’m involved in is the ongoing quest for more funding sources for our local public transit system.
People make all kinds of assumptions about what I do.
It’s a familiar experience.
Two weeks ago I was at a meeting to kick off a county-wide health assessment mapping project that will earn national accreditation for our local public health department. I was getting to know my tablemates when someone asked me, “What did you do before?” Um. Awkward pause. How do I answer?
It went something like this: I worked for a non-profit faith-based organization. Um. Well. Actually I was am a pastor.
How do I explain in casual conversation that I’m theologically educated, have worked for the church, supply preach a dozen a times a year on the side and would in fact be a pastor if the market supported more twenty-nine year old lesbians?
There’s just no easy way to come out. As gay or as a young, female pastor.
Identity is a funny thing.
I was at dinner the other night with several of Jamie’s students. The women were from the interfaith house on campus, and they were from several different countries with widely varying faith experiences. As conversation progressed, one in our group said, “Sarah, I’ve been very curious to know, what is a Mennonite?” Oh my.
Well, you know those people who dress plain and farm with horses and speak Pennsylvania Dutch? I’m not that. I mean some Mennonites are. But my dad drives a very modern, GPS enabled John Deere tractor. And peace. We believe in peace.
Since I left south central Kansas I’ve had so much practice explaining the Mennonite thing that you’d think my elevator speech would be a little better than it is.
Several months ago I was in a meeting with a Mennonite leader. One of the things he was concerned about was membership. He was committed to serving the churches and people who belonged. He meant well, but his words implied a dividing line drawn in terms of defined identity. Though there’s not a checklist that gives one belonging in Mennonite Church USA, there are many assumptions about whose church it is.
Next week I have a meeting with the NE Area Department of Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). With any luck and a little help, in a year and a half or less I’ll be an ordained Disciples minister. Someone said to me that this step of mine would be a loss to the Mennonite church, but the fact is that I’m not leaving.
The fact is we have a vibrant Mennonite fellowship group in Columbia AND I am an elder in my local Disciples church. It’s taken me years to realize that choosing one way alone would be a crude simplification of my journey of faith and life. Membership is never binary, never clear. Nor should it be.
Neither is identity, whether Mennonite, Disciple, pastor or community organizer. I think.