The hotel restaurant was packed. The only seat available with a view of the Big 10 football game was at the bar. On my right was a group of young men with the US Navy Reserve. They were in town for drill weekend. On my left were three diehard Minnesota Vikings fans from upstate New York who flew in to Minneapolis for the game.
It had been a while since I had rubbed elbows with people outside the church. I wondered if I looked as uncomfortable as I felt. I fixed my eyes on the television mounted above rows of alcohol bottles as I waited for my food.
My audible “Yes!” when the team I was rooting for scored a touchdown was enough of an invitation for one of the Vikings fans to strike up a conversation.
Eventually the questions came: “What are you doing in Minneapolis? What do you do for a living?”
Earlier in the day I had led Thriving Essentials, a leadership development workshop, in a church outside of the Twin Cities.
I took a deep breath while I considered my response and then decided to give him the unvarnished truth. “I’m a pastor. I came to train some church leaders.”
For a moment I couldn’t read the expression on his face and then the rhetorical question came, “You’re a female priest?!!” All I could do was smile. “That’s so cool!” he said, quickly filling in the awkward silence.
The conversation took off from there and the Big 10 football game faded into the background.
“What church allows you to be a priest?”
“What’s the difference between what you believe and what Catholics believe?”
“Are you going to Mass tomorrow?”
“Will you pray for my friend here? I pray for him every day; he’s Catholic but doesn’t go to church.”
Within moments he was drawing his friends into the conversation, introducing me as his female priest. The trio posed questions that stretched me in ways I hadn’t experienced since I had become a pastor.
They had no idea the role they were playing in my discipleship.
Earlier in the day I taught a group of church leaders that disciples grow when they engage God’s mission beyond the walls of the church. In this hotel restaurant, I became the student. This was a reminder that I was still growing as a disciple of Jesus.
I chose to respond as Peter instructed:
“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
It would have been easier to vaguely say I was there on a work trip.
Instead, I was learning to put my discomfort aside to be present to the people in front of me. I was learning to listen to the Holy Spirit while fielding their questions. I was learning to discern and pay attention to the shame that was just below the surface as they each told me about their troubled relationship with the church.
There in the middle of the hotel restaurant, while the football game played and my team went on to win, I attended to the priestly role of mediating the presence of Christ to three brothers who needed encouragement and a tangible experience of God’s grace.
Where outside the walls of the church are you being discipled by Jesus?
Written by Rev. Elaine May, CRCNA Congregational Ministries Ministry Consultant and principal creator of Thriving Essentials, a leadership development course for all the leaders in the church. This set of four devotionals will follow the four themes of the course: mission, discipleship, discernment and leadership. You can register for the course and find more information about the Thriving Congregations Initiative at crcna.org/thrive.
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Elaine, thank you so much for sharing your story. That is truly a discipleship story.. Jesus did it and said it this way, “In your going, make disciples.” I have had similar opportunities in my life. Thanks.