I Want to Come Back

An email came to my inbox that I thought for sure was spam.

It was advertising a free weekend in Texas and right before I moved it into the junk file I saw my Bishop’s name- she had nominated me.

Well Okay! I looked at it again and then I agreed to go. 

That first day in San Antonio I couldn’t believe how hot and sunny it was. Didn’t these people know it was September, soon to be Fall? Remembering that first day, I met a lot of people from all over the country. All of us were bivocational clergy. At the table I timidly sat down with two priests from Montana.  Once we had exchanged names I felt less alone. Funny, I remember the people more than the presentations. As we prayed the opening prayer, the room seemed like it was breathing life into all of us. No one seemed as worried anymore, but I was still not sure of what we had in common or why we were there. 

In the spirit of the Alamo, the number one tourist attraction in San Antonio, all of us knew somehow, we were the rebels or wanna be rebels in our dioceses.  Most of us hadn’t graduated from mainline seminaries, hadn’t lived for three years in seminaries that were residential, and we had outside jobs in addition to our priesthood duties. Yet we were optimistic about the future of the church and about our roles in it. And we knew that we were part of a growing phenomenon, bivocational priests. 

We were wildly different in so many ways. Pay for instance, depending on what, if any, contracts we had signed for our parish duties. Some states had bishops who assumed that the money part for us should come from our secular jobs, not from the church. Other states had situations where the money was there but small, and yet the “real” full time priests did less and got more money. As for me, I have been blessed with a wonderful bishop who has insisted on fair pay, and I am glad.

In addition to money, or lack of it, on the second day we arrived at the obvious wall in front of all of us- were we on a fast track to burn out? If we worked a full-time secular job, (we needed insurance, money, and all that stuff), then had a family at home, then worked as a clergy, where is the down time? Who gives us permission to even take time for ourselves? 

Elizabeth Felicetti led a session that asked us, “Two Vocations or Two Jobs?” You know, particularly for women, it could have been named “Three Professions and/or Divorce?”  I am still thinking about this, when I have time and am not doing laundry, about many of the questions Elizabeth hit us with. I know St. Paul was also a tent maker- but really, was he sewing tents while his children were asking where their socks were?

Of all the worship opportunities, I was so happy to be part of Susan Forshey’s Morning Prayer. On the second day, before breakfast even, she had us stand in a big circle and chant the Almighty Three prayer. We were given time to offer prayers of praise, of thanksgiving, and intercession. She also sang by herself, which is so brave and it was so wonderful to be part of.

If I had another life, I think it would be outstanding to be a rancher in Texas, herding longhorns and channeling the young Elizabeth Taylor in her movie Giant. So when I got to listen to John Blackburn talk about his ranch, his land, the price of cattle, and then going fifty plus miles to his church, I was in awe.

For now I remain a bivocational priest with a wonderful parish in Ottawa ,Kansas and an additional assignment to chaplain the students at Kansas University. And I am a wife to Charles, a mother to Molly and Alice, and a teacher at the Benedictine monastery in Atchison. Thank you for inviting me to be part of the Gathering of Leaders and I want to come back!

– The Rev. Mary Donovan