It’s been a weird week.

It all started Wednesday morning when I managed to put a hole in my stockings and spill berocca on my white cotton shirt in the 10mins before I left the house for work. Maybe I should have seen the weirdness coming after that. But I don’t really believe in omens. So I simply brushed it off and got on with the day – just in a different outfit than the one I’d intended.

Thursday evening Jacob and I headed off to the TNZIFF official opening function, and the premiere screening of ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’, one of the centrepiece films for this year’s festival. The film, which explores the birth of the IRA, weaves a complex story centring on the relationship between two brothers. True to director Ken Loach’s signature style, there are no 2 dimensional straw-men in this story. There are no heroes or villains. There are only fragile human beings, desperately attempting to make the best possible choices in the worst of circumstances. It was certainly not an easy watch. But having seen a number of Loach films before, and knowing the subject matter, I expected this. However it was all apparently too much for me. Early in the film there is a torture scene. Now, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I’m a bit soft. So the moment a British soldier began waving a pair of pliers threateningly in the direction of a captured IRA soldier, I knew it was time to shut my eyes. Apparently this wasn’t enough.

After dry reaching a couple of times, I blacked out.

I can’t really explain the reaction. Maybe it was because I couldn’t escape the sound. No threatening music in the background, just the sound of the chair on the floor, the sound of the pliers, and the screaming. Loach has an unnerving ability to bring the action so close that you feel like you are actually in the room. It took me about 10mins with my head between my legs to properly regain my equilibrium. Nothing like that has ever happened to me while watching a film before, and I have to say the experience un-nerved me. I don’t even think it was the most difficult scene to watch in the film, nor do I think the level of violence was gratuitous. The story is after all based on events that have been historically verified by both sides of the equation. Perhaps that was what made it so difficult for me to stomach; the knowledge that this was not just a movie. Real people, not unlike you and me inflicted this level of violence on one another. Both believing that their ‘side’ was justified in behaving the way they did. And then came the Civil War, further blurring the lines between who was right and who was wrong, pitting brother against brother; literally in this story. It felt somewhat ironic to me that I was in the midst of preparing a sermon entitled; ‘Forgiveness is the New Revenge.’

I spent Friday feeling slightly dazed. I got home around ten past five, only to find that I didn’t have my house keys. Jacob was at a movie and the Ritchie’s were away on holiday, so I camped out on our patio in the cold and the quickly descending dark and attempted to work on my sermon without the aid of my computer, my notes, or any of the books I had been reading. Jacob got home around 6:30pm - just as I was beginning to lose feeling in my toes. I have never been so grateful to be inside and in front of a heater!

After guzzling a hastily made panang curry, I headed off to the going away party of a friend of mine. It was a while since I had seen her so it was great to catch up with her before she heads off to the thriving metropolis of Hamilton. But, after my weird week thus far, I was not in the best or most patient of moods, and I was feeling a tad unsociable, even for me. So finding myself in a room full of people I had never met, (there were literally only three people in the room whom I had ever met, two of them only in passing on a couple of occasions), was more than a little overwhelming. I tried to stick with polite niceties, but unfortunately some curious person asked me the inevitable question – “So what do you do?”

I hate being asked about my job. It’s hard to explain why. It is certainly not because I don’t like it, or because I’m embarrassed about it. But I feel reticent about talking about it to strangers, especially Christian strangers, largely because the moment I say the words “I’m a pastor” people see me differently. There are judgements and expectations that seem to come with the label and I’m not sure that that is entirely a good thing. It makes me uncomfortable. The conversation that followed on this particular occasion really only added to my frustrations:

“So what do you do?”

“I work a couple of days a week for my church, and 3 days a week as a medical receptionist in a physiotherapy clinic.”

“Wow, that’s cool. What do you do for your church?”

“I’m a pastor.”

“Really? What kind of pastor are you?”

(Huh? (Short moment of stunned silence) Ummm...hopefully a good one????) “What do you mean by that?”

“Are you the Youth Pastor, or the Children’s Pastor? Or the Worship Pastor?...”

“Ohh, (internal sigh of relief that question actually makes sense), I’m the Associate Pastor.”

“Really? So, is your husband the pastor?”


“ he's also an associate pastor?”

“ My husband is a librarian.”

Stunned silence fills the room. One of the girls I have met before does a nice save:

“Oh that’s right; your husband works at the Philson Library at the Medical school...”

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to having to answer to questions like these. It frustrates me on so many levels. I’d be willing to bet money that if I was a guy I wouldn’t get asked what kind of pastor I was, just where I was serving. I guess this is where my reticence comes from, at least in part.

When I decided to go back to University to study theology, I did so because I was responding to what I perceived as a call from God on my life to do so. When I made the decision to apply to become a licensed minister, I did so because I was continuing to respond to that call, with the support and encouragement of my friends, family and church community. And now almost 2 years later I find myself weighing up whether or not I take the next step and apply for ordination. On some level the decision feels like a done deal, though in others, I’m just not sure.

When I first began to consider the possibility that maybe God might possibly be calling me to ordained ministry, I approached that possibility with extreme caution. I’m not someone who makes decisions lightly. I gave the idea plenty of time to brew before I took any steps forward, and even when I did those steps were tentative. From the very beginning I was always adamant that while I was happy to explore and test out whether or not my particular call to ministry was real, I was not willing to justify my right to even have a call to ministry. That is not a battle I feel called to fight. And yet I often find myself in position where that decision feels compromised by the judgements and expectations of others.

On top of that, I hate the perception that I am somehow different from other people, more special even, because of what God has called me to. The way I see it, all of us have a call on our lives, none more special or important than any other, just different. Yes, God has called me to do this, but it doesn’t make me any more special than Jacob, who serves God in response to an equally strong call, but in a very different manner and context. I neither want nor need special robes, or a special chair. I’m still just me, Melissa: daughter, sister, friend, wife, lover, pastor. I still get grumpy and occasionally shout. I am still useless without at least one coffee in the morning. I still talk to inanimate objects and food while it’s cooking. And I still have a thing for white Asiatic lilies. I’m still just me. The only difference is that I have chosen to take a step in a particular direction because I believe it’s the way that God would have me go.

This has been a much longer post than I intended. But it’s been a weird week; a week of strange occurrences, frustrating conversations and a thoughtful malaise. And this post only covers half of it!


jeanie said…
My favourite post thus far...Thanx Melissa. :)
servant said…
I'm personally looking forward to the day you take the next step to ordained ministry.

I'm not sure why, I think it's a bit of a selfish thing. My first sermon was on the place of women in the Church and I advocated strongly for women in formal Ministry roles in a denomination where there was still an unwritten rule that men are the head and a women only steps into leadership where there isn't a man to do the job. So for me, there's a sense of victory when I see a woman in formal ministry and not simply because her husband is.

To me it's a victory because it's a space where the stereotypes haven't won. I know the journey must be a hard one wrought with difficulties and things to overcome that I will never have to consider.... but I literally pray often that more women would stand in the face of those steretypes and peoples niggling assumptions and show that God calls both men and women apart from each other, and together because in his image he created THEM.

I appreciate what you do Melissa, not just the actual work, but also what you represent as a woman being true to her call. It saddens me to wonder how many women may have heard that call but not responded to it because of those questionable stereotypes and assumptions.

Thank you for stepping up to the plate in the face of those hardships. Our community is better for it.
Rhett said…
In the immortal words of Rob Schnieder... "Do it! Do it now!"

Great sermon on Sunday night, by the way. I feel that with the combination of your sermon, followed by Rick Gervais' 'Politics', I was especially ministered too.
melissa said…
I was especially ministered to by you and your wife's hospitality post church on Sunday - and falling asleep on the couch.
Rhett said…
I thought it was very cute when afterwards Sarah said, "Woohoo! Melissa fell asleep on the couch... that means our house is cozy!"

... and hey, that was some great cherry-bacon flavoured wine!
servant said…
oh to be able to hang out after church on Sunday..... it's amazing the community that can take place after a service. But alas it cannot be....
Melva said…
What a dumb day you had!

I don't know how long it will take for church culture to not assume certain roles for certain genders (like it was interesting that they didn't first ask you if you were the Senior Pastor vs Youth/Children/Worship), or if it ever will. Just remember, God loves everyone, even Christians.

You would already have been a Pastor to the community prior to being licensed, and in my opinion, you're already ordained for the job by God- so it is a formality for people to give you the paper for the next step. You go girl (said shaking head and finger in the American way)...we can have a special party for Jacob when that happens (to initiate him as a Pastor's wife).

P.S.Maybe we need to hide a key somewhere at our house, like under the pot-plant at the front cos no-one would think to look there.
Glen O'Brien said…
I'm more and more convinced that Wesleyans have a special vocation in this area - to bear witness to God's caling upon all persons, regardless of gender - and unapologetically to ordain women, to celebrate the ordination of women, and one day get to the place where we ordain without even adding the words "a woman." We will just ordain those called to the specialised ministry of Word and Sacrament in giving oversight and pastoral care to a congregation. There are not many churches that ordain women on a basis other than equal rights (though that may be an important consideration). In fact no one has a right to be ordained. No one. God calls and enables and the church recogises that calling and enabling. It's not about rights or equality or gender. It's about calling and gifting. I differ a litle from Melva on this (though I do understand where she's coming from). Melissa doesn't need any piece of paper from the church to validate her ordination or to be recognised by the community she serves as a pastor. But ordination is much more than jumping through some formal hoop the denomination puts in front of us. I believe those traditions that see ordination as a sacrament are on to something. If we don't believe that when we lay hands on a person, solemnly consecrate them to a specific Christian ministry, and ask the Holy Spirit to anoint them for that task, if we don't believe anything "happens" then why do we do it at all? Why go through the form if it is a "somthing/nothing"? (pardon my Tok Pisin) It is because ordination does have a sacramental quality to it that we approach it with reverence and joy. Paul told Timothy to "fan into flame" the gift that was given to him "through the laying on of hands of the presbyters (elders)." I believe something is imparted at ordination that makes it much more than a formality. This doesn't deny the reality of ministry performed before but it adds something to complement and complete the earlier service. No one doubts that people who are engaged (or in a de facto relationship) may have a genuine and meaningful love for each other, but when they marry something happens in the public exchange of vows that brings their relationship to a new level. It is a charism - a gift - a confirming grace that strengthens a love already present but needing both the confirming of the community and the sealing of God's Spirit. Another thing we evangelicals need to appropriate from Catholic and Orthodox Christians - a sacramental view of the universe and a more positiove view of the power of symbol and ritual to effect that which they signify.

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