Go Across by Rev. Sarah Howell

December 8, 2014

Go Across

When people ask me how the transition from seminary to full-time ministry was for me, I tell them I’ve spent the past two years discovering just how much I didn’t learn in seminary.

I learned a lot in seminary—systematic theology, church history, Christian ethics, liturgics, missiology, ecclesiology, exegesis, homiletics, and a smattering of Hebrew.

And then I got to the church, and suddenly very few people cared that I knew all of that. I had all of this knowledge and nowhere to put it. To make matters worse, in all the practical stuff of daily ministry, I was way behind.

The transition from seminary to full-time ministry was jarring, disorienting, disillusioning. I had learned in seminary the importance of building relationships in the church and the community, but I didn’t know where to start in a 3,000-member church smack downtown in a city of almost a quarter of a million people.

The word “transition,” at its root, means “go across.” Again and again, I have been called to go across—across the state to my first appointment, across the aisle to meet my parishioners, across the street to be with the homeless men and women who spend their days downtown, and across town to meet and partner with other churches and organizations seeking mercy and justice in the city.

I have been called to go across the chasm of myself, to look deep into my own heart and question and reaffirm and question again the call God placed there, to trust that somewhere within me is a well that God is filling so I might be sustained in this difficult but rewarding journey called ministry.

In my going and in my crossing, I am met with challenges and with joy. What I find on the other side of whatever boundary I must cross might make me want to run or put down roots, depending on the day. I might find a mean and embittered church member, or one on the threshold of a thrilling spiritual awakening. I might find racial and economic barriers that surprise me in their solidness, or a community of people aching to be more authentically together. I might find stubbornness and willfulness and something so far from the Gospel that it makes me doubt my own faith, or a graciousness and openness in people who see what is not understood with a desire to learn more even if not without fear.

As I go across, I remember the many crossings in the Bible. The Hebrew slaves crossing the Red Sea. The Israelites crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land. Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee. Paul crossing the lands and waters to preach the Gospel. Again and again, God tells God’s people to go—and not just anywhere, but across lines and boundaries and divisions, trusting God’s plan and providence.

So I will continue to transition, to go across whatever bridge or road or sea stands between me and God’s call. May I, and all who follow Christ, be strengthened with the courage to take each step.

Sarah S. Howell - Associate Minister, Centenary UMC, Winston-Salem
Leadership Development