It’s been one of those weeks that makes me think God is laying things on with a trowel to make me regret having been lazy too long. Granted, I am a senior citizen and retired to boot, so I figure I deserve days where I sleep nearly all day, spend most of my awake time knitting, or reading a whole book in a day. So there are dishes in the sink. The floors have more than a few balls of cat-lace (loosely accrued bits of fur that appear in the middle of the floor the second after I turn off the vacuum). I ought to clean the oven or the bathtub, but there’s an interesting program on TV, and besides, as my best pal Mouse tells me, the housework will still be there tomorrow.
I think I stretched it too far this time, though. This week was scheduled for my annual mentor training for certification to be a mentor for Education for Ministry (EfM). This year the group met from 8 am until 11 am, then 1 pm – 3 pm for three days and just the morning session on the fourth day. We sit in an online classroom, 7 or 8 of us forming a group plus a trainer, and learn to be better mentors for our groups. We aren’t teachers, and we certainly don’t have all the answers, but then, we aren’t expected to have them. We’re more like facilitators, guiding, sometimes directing, sometimes coaching, sometimes acting as cat herders, but always being supportive of the group and its members as all of us work to become more spiritual, closer to God, and more educated about the Old and New Testaments, church history, and theology and ethics that inform how we serve God, the earth, and the people of the earth. We serve as ministers who don’t have to be ordained to do the job.
Training is always fun because quite often I meet people I’ve never met, but better yet, I have a chance to get re-acquainted with folks I’ve met and worked with before. This year was a mixed group of Canadians and Americans, and it turned out to be both a chance to explore the differences in EfM in the two countries, and the similarities we all have had as mentors. We have discussions on various topics, such as how to have “difficult conversations” such as racism, privilege, social justice, and cross-denominational talks. We talk about culture and how it affects our faith. We discuss how our faith leads us to take certain positions and results in specific actions, and how we encourage our group members to expand their ideas of what ministry is, how to read the Bible with eyes to the context of the time in which it was written, and development of prayer styles and routines that foster spiritual growth. It sounds easy, people sitting around and talking for five hours a day, but the depth and breadth of the conversations and mutual sharing take a lot of concentration and can give the feeling of having run a marathon at day’s end.
I dread training sometimes because it means committing to being up earlier in the morning than I would like, being more organized about my early morning routine, and preparing to be ready for class at a reasonably early hour. Since we do this online, we could show up in pajamas and birds-nest hairdos if we wanted. Still, it’s like we have a sense of responsibility to the group to be a bit more professional, even if wearing t-shirts and jeans. Then we get to the classroom, and the energy starts to build. By 8 am, we’re ready to go (maybe wishing we’d had time for one more cup of tea or coffee), and then we’re off. By the end of the day, we’re all tired. Still, we are also invigorated, excited, eager, and exhilarated by what we’d accomplished, and we have pages of handouts and personal notes to remind us of what we’d learned when we returned to our groups in the fall.
It always happens to me. I start slowly, but as the end of the training gets closer, I try to absorb more and more like a dry sponge while striving to be a cat herder for my own thoughts and questions. More and more, all of us realized that what we had was a ministry that didn’t require three years of seminary and an ordination to do. I, like the others in the training group, feel we have been called by God to do this ministry of helping others learn what they believe, where that belief came from, and how what they learn can strengthen their faith and commitment.
I finished the training this morning and wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a long nap, but there was housework to do, cleaning cat boxes, and a half million other things that I’d put off because of the seminar. Life doesn’t stop because I’m having fun doing something other than routine tasks. Besides, I tell myself, sitting in a virtual room with a group of other people as passionate about a subject as I am, without masks and with clearly understood boundaries, is the closest thing to the previous “normal” as I was likely to get for some time.
So why do I do it every year? Where else can I sit with a group of people and talk about things about which I am passionate? Most of the world wouldn’t understand that joy in a topic that would perhaps be seen as crazy or unimportant or even stifling. Where else can I go to another room of people who are on a similar journey that I’ve been on or who are just starting one, and help them discover their own joy, passion, and ways to serve others. Where else can I continue to learn more about what my life journey is about and where spirituality fits in?
I haven’t gotten everything done yet, and I have an appointment tomorrow early that requires me to get the lead out very early tomorrow. Still, I’m processing the last few days and what they have meant and will mean to me as I mentor my group come September. There’s a joy there and an impatience. God got me going this week, and I have a feeling there’ll be more nudges to come.
Image: Telemachus and Mentor, Author Pablo E. Fabisch, illustration for Aventuras de Telémaco by François Fénelon (1651-1715). Fabisch illustration 1956. Found at Wikimedia Commons.