Mentors, Part 2

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This fourth installment of the blog series, begun April 9th, reflects on the practice of mentoring as a means to overall health and well-being. 



Clergy Health and Well-being: Mentors, Part 2
by Nancy Chester McCranie, M. Div., 1987, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Ilene was actually my mentor for five years before either of us realized it.

I first met her in the spring of 1977 when I was a senior in high school.   For several years my parents hosted a dinner in our home one evening a month.  In addition to a dozen or so of the more open-minded parishioners from Dad’s congregation, a large Church of Christ in Austin, Texas, a special guest from the theological community was invited to come share their faith journey.  I would often sit tucked back in a corner, fascinated by these heart-felt stories.  We’d hosted a priest, a rabbi, ministers from all the mainline denominations, at least one Pentecostal, a few seminary professors, a pastoral counselor, and a chaplain. And, except for one feisty nun, all of them had been men.  Until Ilene. 

She was in her early 30’s, vivacious, articulate, and brilliant; a former school teacher and the mother of two daughters.  Currently a senior M.Div. student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, she talked about her call to ministry; about studying Greek, pastoral care, and preaching; about her hopes for the future.  It was as if a magic unicorn had suddenly appeared in our living room.  A woman minister?!?  I had never even imagined such a thing.  So transfixed was I by her story, I almost forgot to breathe.

Maybe the Church of Christ will be ready to accept women in ministry by the time I’m ready, I thought to myself naively.

Life moved on and I moved with it.  After high school I attended Abilene Christian University and studied Communications.  The fall of my senior year I was home visiting on the same weekend that Ilene was a return guest at the monthly pot-luck.  Now serving as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church, when she began to speak I felt myself mesmerized once more.  That’s it!  I wanted to shout.  I’m not supposed to be a news reporter; I’m supposed to be a pastor, a minister, a teacher. 

From where I stood, however, there was no path from here to there.  

About a year and a half later I was on an evening walk with my dad, a most perceptive man who was always tuned in to the stirrings of my heart, when he asked me this:

Nancy, If you could be anything in the world, what would it be?  (Long pause.)

Anything?!? I asked.

Yes, he said, anything.  No limits.

(Deep breath.)  I would be a minister, I said quietly. It feels like that’s what I’m supposed to do.  It’s just that I’m not sure I can be enough like a man to be a good minister.

God isn’t calling you to be a man, Nancy, he said gently, God is calling you to be you.     

And right then and there, in those grace-filled words, a path forward opened up.

With the unwavering support of my parents, I enrolled that fall as a full-time student at Austin Seminary.  Beyond excited, I was like a muggle who suddenly found herself at Hogwarts.  Can this really be happening?!?  I thought over and over again.  And even though Ilene was the official mentor for a group of us women seminary students, I secretly thought of her as my mentor, my magic unicorn.  So, during my first year in seminary when I was invited to serve as Youth Coordinator at First Presbyterian Church, I jumped at the chance.  No matter that I had no aptitude or interest in working with teens.  Being in close proximity to Ilene, leading worship alongside her, watching her teach and preach with such passion, joy, and humor, I began to find my own voice, my own strength, my own rhythm.

Throughout the years, Ilene has graciously lent her support, advice, and friendship when I have needed it.  She has been there at important moments:  standing by my side as I was presented as a candidate for ministry on the floor of presbytery; preaching at my ordination; taking my fretful calls when, as a new pastor, I was uncertain or frustrated; officiating my wedding.  Hers was, in large part, a gift of imagination; helping me imagine who I could become and what my ministry might look like. And when I’ve come to bends in the road, helping me re-imagine what might be next.

The simple words thank you hardly seem adequate for such a life-giving, life-changing gift.