I have a fantasy persona. There are only select times that I’m tempted to bring it out: on an airplane, out with friends on a Friday night, on vacation, at the dentist. Really, it is only when talking with strangers, and my temptation to reveal my alter ego only rises to the surface in response to a specific question:
“So, what do you do for a living?”
The real answer is “I am a minister. I work with college students as they grapple with faith and life. I offer pastoral care and spiritual direction. I companion them through life’s squalls and try to invite them to new awareness of God’s activity in their lives. I plan retreats and liturgies, I counsel and discern, I pray and I preach (rarely, but it happens in my own way). I believe in God and humbly try to live a life in accordance with that belief. I’m a pastor.”
What I’m tempted to say, though, is “I’m a bank teller. I go to work in the morning and when I go home at 5:00 I don’t think about my job any more. I do respectable work, but I don’t have any opinions about religion, and I don’t have any professional skills to help you with what you’re going through right now. So, please don’t tell me about your impending divorce or subject me to your diatribe about how religion is the source of all that is wrong in this world. I am a very normal person and have nothing to offer you spiritually.”
I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes, out in the world, I just want to be Angela the person, not Angela the minister. I don’t quite understand it, because I love the work I do and am thankful every day for the privilege of working with students and sharing the Good News. But, when I’m not at work, somehow there is a resistance to confessing this part of my identity. I’ve experienced all kinds of reactions to “I’m a minister” and rarely are they neutral. Maybe I’m just trying to seek out some personal time and fear that I’ll be back at work once I start talking about ministry. Maybe I’m chicken, and am afraid of how people will respond. I worry, does this make me lukewarm in my commitment to ministry? Why wouldn’t I welcome a chance to – gasp! – minister to strangers when the Holy Spirit creates the opportunity?
I sometimes wonder if this instinct to hide my vocation would diminish if I were ordained. While I do see myself as a minister and believe that ministry is my vocation, ecclesiastically I am no different than any other lay Catholic. It seems that in the eyes of the Church, my ministry is more of a profession than a vocation. I bore the financial burden of seminary without support from my Church, I found a job all by myself, and there was no ceremony or ritual from the Church commissioning me to this work. My ministry is limited to my job, so outside of that job, who am I to present myself as a minister of the Church?
I haven’t pulled the bank teller card yet. I still always fess up, and usually I end up glad that I revealed my ministerial identity. More often than not, it does lead to interesting conversations. Still, even three years after finishing divinity school and working in ministry, my pastoral identity continues to develop as I grapple of with reality of the in-between space that lay ecclesial ministry holds in the life of the Church.
Angela Batie proud to be a Campus Minister at Saint Louis University. She received her MDiv from Yale in 2007 and has never worked at a bank.
Image available online: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rain0975/3778546843/