This past weekend I had the privilege of officiating for the wedding of a dear friend. Despite having undertaken all of my graduate and doctoral degrees at a seminary, I had not seriously considered ordination since the beginning of my master’s program when I discerned that my calling was to the academic side of theology rather than to leadership of word and sacrament. When my friend called me nearly two years ago to ask that I officiate her wedding, it never occurred to me that something as simple as an online ordination process would push me toward further vocational discernment… and yet, I think, just maybe, it has.
As a long time church musician I am accustomed to being a part of people’s special days. I have certainly played or sang for more than a few weddings, as well as other services that mark some of the various stages of life – baptisms, confirmations, funerals. I’m no stranger to carefully (and prayerfully) crafting these types of services to fit the families and individuals involved, but I imagine I do leave a certain amount of professional space between myself and these events in most cases.
The wedding this weekend though was personal for me in an entirely new and life giving way. I first met the bride during summer camp many years ago. We sang in choir together during college and have stayed in touch throughout the years. She and the groom have been together for as long as I can remember… somewhere around 11 years. I can remember her talking about having me officiate their wedding, even way back in our college years. As I stood with them in her parent’s yard, with the changing autumn leaves on every side and the soft breeze helping keep everyone somewhat comfortable in the heavy Iowa humidity, I was struck by how very right I felt in that moment. It felt right to be officiating, as a pastor, in this moment of their lives.
I will never forget the joy, warmth and hope that I saw in my friend’s eyes as I asked whether she would take this man to be her husband, to live and move through life together, and to love and comfort him. His face too was filled with this joy, warmth, and hope when I asked him the same questions. As I stood with them, I was incredibly humbled by how special these moments were for them as well as for their family and friends.
During my drive back home after the weekend I realized that I couldn’t actually remember exactly why I decided that I was not called to be a pastor. I know that I wanted to be a scholar, and a professor; and I know that I attended seminary because I thought that in order to be a theology professor you needed to first have been a pastor, and though I absolutely don’t regret taking the academic track, I do wonder if it was truly discernment… or perhaps it was me just being sick of constantly discerning that led me to that decision.
Early on in college I remember thinking that I would be a pastor one day, but that it would be something I did later in life. Then continued discernment led me to seminary, which led me to intense academic study. Now I wonder if, maybe, just maybe, this path was only the beginning of a much longer discernment journey.
Being able to experience the love and connection I saw lived out this weekend has reminded me that discerning where God calls us is a continuous process. Occasionally over the years I have worried that perhaps I would end up being a pastor one day… and honestly at this point in my journey, that sort of annoys me. I mean, I already went to seminary, originally to be a pastor, and it wasn’t the right fit, the right call – I find it much easier to say no and move on. I continually reassure myself and those around me that I am not called to serve as a pastor… and yet, there are moments like those I experience this weekend where the pastoral role feels just right. There are moments when I find myself crafting a sermon in my head, or connecting with people, or wishing I had experienced a Clinical Pastoral Education placement in order to learn more about chaplaincy.
Deep down I know that, like so many things in life, discernment is a process that never fully ends but continues to be active and changing just as we move and change through our lives – even still, it has been a long time since I felt the spirit or energy in this way. I am now trying to refocus myself toward the understanding that discernment is a constant part of my being. I want to understand discernment not as a process heading toward an end but rather as truly paying attention to the spirit and energy that moves and changes me. Perhaps then I will be able to accept discernment as the journey itself, rather than as a roadblock to the journey.
Dr. Katie M. Deaver, earned her Ph.D. in Feminist Theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deaver holds a B.A. in Religion and Music from Luther College in Decorah, IA, as well as MATS and Th.M. degrees from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Her dissertation explored the connections between the Christian understanding of atonement theology and the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States. Her other areas of interest include the connection between power and violence, sexual ethics, and working toward the elimination of the oppression and exploitation of women and girls around the world.