MLCI Blog: Reflecting on Pastoral Identity
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be hearing from various guest writers as they reflect on their own sense of pastoral/vocational identity. We’ve asked these writers to share their thoughts believing that an essential piece of overall health and well-being for clergy is a sense of self that extends “beyond the pulpit”, but that also embraces the realities of their calling to ministry. We’re grateful for the thoughts of these fine pastors and welcome your engagement with them in conversation.
This first post is offered by the Reverend Tracy Siegman. Tracy received her M. Div. from LTS in 2010 , and serves First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Bethany, IL.
In my first year of ordained ministry, I met a colleague and we exchanged business cards. My colleague pointed out that I didn’t have Reverend, Pastor, or Minister as a title on my card. She encouraged me to redo my business cards, because putting a title on my card would go a long way to claiming my pastoral identity. I then remembered talking about this same issue with my field placement mentor in seminary.
It was hard in the first couple years of ministry to think of myself as a pastor, because no one called me pastor. The senior pastor wasn’t called pastor, so it didn’t seem appropriate to have people call me pastor. I think it may have helped me perceive myself as a pastor if I thought others saw me as a pastor. I often felt like the girl that got paid to hang out with the kids.
At my second calling, I was asked in the interview what I preferred to be called. I saw that as a defining moment in claiming my pastoral identity. I said I’d like to be called Pastor Tracy. There has been some confusion among the church about why I am called Pastor while previous ministers were called Reverend. There was a big deal made by a group in the church when most of the church started calling me Pastor T. Ironically, the people who had a problem with me being called Pastor T are a group that calls me Tracy.
In my first career, I was laid off from a job I loved. That first day of unemployment I realized that I had no identity, because I had no business card to hand out. I tried hard to define myself in other terms while I was unemployed and was able to find a balance in my identity between who I am and what I do. Unfortunately that lesson didn’t carry over into my new career. Once I claimed my identity as a pastor, I had begun to define myself only as pastor.
Over the past year, I have been working to redefine myself apart from my vocation. I realized that part of the reason I only had the identity of pastor was because I had no life outside of my work. I am single and have no kids, so I don’t have a family to go home to who knows me as Tracy. I live in a very small town where it is difficult to make friends who don’t know me as pastor. I’ve made meeting people in neighboring towns a priority and making new friends who know me as Tracy. The after-school program I volunteer for where I am called Coach Sassy has helped me get beyond Pastor Tracy.
Now, when I meet new people, who don’t know me as pastor, I tell them I am a community organizer. People are very curious about what a community organizer does. They don’t assume anything about who I am or what I do as if I had told them I am a pastor. People ask what a community organizer does and how I got into that work. People think I have a really cool job. I tell them I work with an after-school program with elementary aged girls, a food pantry, an energy assistance program, an emergency assistance program, and a team that coordinates Christmas gifts for families in poverty. I tell them I care for the elderly, lonely, and home bound. I say I often get to speak about how to get involved in your community.
Then, I tell them I get to do all that amazing work as the pastor of a great little church. If I weren’t a pastor I’d find a way to do all that important work within an organization. I’d find a way to continue to be a community organizer and minister to people in a different capacity. I had a career before ministry, but I couldn’t go back to that office work. That’s not what I do anymore. I may be more than a pastor, but I will always be a servant of Christ.
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) is a partnership between the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Lexington Theological Seminary. MLCI’s goal is to assist pastors in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship spans the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister.