Meg O'Brien Pastors in Virginia
Meg O'Brien (M.Div. '99), a co-pastor at Community Mennonite Church in Virginia and a member of Fuller's Alumni/ae Council, recently corresponded with E-News staff via (what else?) e-mail about her pastoral position.
E-News: What are the biggest joys in your current ministry?
Meg: My greatest joy and privilege was baptizing 10 high-school-aged-youth this past year I had gotten to know quite well in a 4 month catechism class (and anticipating eight more later this spring!). My co-pastor, Ray, and I both baptized each young person in a local pond. Each baptismal candidate made a confession of faith, stating what baptism meant to them, and why they were choosing to be baptized at this time. They also each chose a hymn that was significant to them, which the congregation sang as Ray, the candidate, and I walked out into water above our waists. We spoke words of baptism to the candidate, and then immersed them, walked them to shore, as they waited for the others to be baptized. Then we welcomed each newly baptized member to the family of Christ, and into membership in this local body, and presented them with a certificate of baptism and a hymnal (this church can really sing!).
Another big joy is the incredible privilege to tenderly and prayerfully hold hurting persons and their stories of pain and struggle in seasons and circumstances of their lives. It's a real joy to be in a congregation that is very supportive of me as a new pastor--that trusts I'll grow into the role. I also love to participate in the local Interfaith Association, which provides me with some of the richness of diversity I loved so much at Fuller.
E-News: What are some of your challenges?
Meg: My biggest struggle, I think, was in not having a role model here. I'm the only single, 30-something, female pastor around. That includes both the area Mennonite churches and even other pastors from the local Interfaith Association. To simply get a read on appropriate dress was hard! The other female pastors in the area are all married with children, and a decade or more older than I am--so our style of dress would be different. I've been figuring it out on my own, judging for myself what is appropriate and tasteful, and also reflective of my own self.
My congregation is made up of quite a few intellectuals, including many faculty at James Madison University as well as Eastern Mennonite University. That can be an intimidating group to pastor, but I'm learning that everyone needs a pastor--and they truly view me as their pastor.
I knew going into the pastorate (thanks to some really good classes at Fuller like "Person and Practice of Ministry") that finding and maintaining balance can be a struggle--balance between personal and public life, as well as balance between rest and work. This church began with just a few part-time, unpaid pastors, so it is a good church for respecting boundaries and not expecting the pastors to do everything. I am learning, though that pastoring requires more administrative work than I had expected--not just paperwork, but committee work, communication work, visioning work, team-building work, detail work, big picture work, calling out of gifts work, empowering work.
I'm learning that much of that administration requires pastoral care. In asking someone from the congregation to preach, or lead worship, or be on a committee, it is much more than just finding a warm body, or someone with the greatest skill. It requires thinking about what would be best for the congregation, how the experience will empower and draw out and affirm gifts in the person being asked to participate or lead. That takes a lot of energy--more than I had expected--so I could find myself exhausted from a week in which I did no preaching or pastoral counseling--but lots of pastoral administration.
I was recently talking with some colleagues about being in charge of so much in the church, and someone told me the story of a pastor who went to the train station every week for lunch. One day someone asked the pastor why he went took his brown bag lunch to the train station every week. The pastor responded, "Just once a week, I like to see something that goes, all by itself, without my making it happen." That's how it feels sometimes!
E-News: How is co-pastoring different than the senior/associate structure?
Meg: Co-pastoring is GREAT! Ray and I are a team and are on the same level. We are partners in ministry. Although we make ourselves accountable to one another, we don't answer to one another. This is not Ray's church, or mine. We don't need to do things "his way" or "mine," but are a team. We brainstorm, wrestle together on issues, and plan together.
Although Ray co-pastored with his wife, Brenda, 11 years before coming here and has been here 2 years longer than me, he has never made me feel even inexperienced, much less inadequate. He is a great storehouse of experience. I'm not under his thumb or regime, but do rely on his wisdom, experience, and integrity.
This congregation is great--choosing (insisting on, in fact) to have male and female co-pastors. It's quite empowering.