Reflections on 25 Years in the Ministry
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, September 10, 2006
I purposely put these brief reflections of mine in the “Hope” section of this service, because, for me, ministry has always been about hope—about looking forward. Always another Sunday beckoned; new plans; new adventures. In the life of a church, there is always something to look forward to: one Sunday service is barely put to bed, before the next one beckons.As you know by now, I like to dabble in history, and the past is very precious to me. The past is important, and unless we understand the past (or try to), we’ll have no idea of why we are where we are, and less idea, perhaps, of where we ought to be headed. The past of a church—its history; its heritage; its traditions—is especially important. And part of the reasons I love churches, and love being in the ministry, is that it’s just about the only thing any of us are part of these days that has been around for generation after generation. It ties us in with history; it reminds us we in this generation did not build this world; that we owe a debt to those who have come before.
But it is a debt we repay to the future; to those who will come after us. Ministry, to me, is about preparing the way for those who will come next: It’s about standing with one’s feet planted firmly in the world as it is—but pointing toward the world that can be. It’s about casting a cold eye on this human predicament, and acknowledging its tragedy and pain—but at the same time, knowing that there are forces of healing, and interdependence, and love which far transcend any human powers or principalities.
Many things have changed in this world of ours since I entered the ministry more than a quarter-century ago. When I entered Harvard Divinity School in the fall of 1978, I was just a day past my 24th birthday. I had been married all of five days. Jimmy Carter was President; and John Paul the First was Pope. I had no children, no money, and absolutely no inkling of what ministry was really about. One shudders to think of how much this world of ours has been through in those two-and-a-half decades. Some things have changed: Elizabeth and I have now been married 28 years and one day; the youngest of our three children just entered college; we still don’t have a lot of money, but we get by comfortably enough; and I think I know more about the ministry than I did when I was 24. At least, I sure as heck hope I do!
But one thing, you see, hasn’t changed—several things, actually. The deep sense of privilege I feel at being able to join the hands of lovers in marriage; or say the final words over a life well-lived that has drawn to its close. The good fortune I have at being able to speak my mind freely and openly about the truly important matters of our day; to share my insights with a group of people I respect and feel deeply about. The deep sense of real humility which pervades my being when I am asked for advice by someone facing an important life decision.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the deep affection and real respect I hold for those with whom I have been called to minister. In my 25 years in the ministry, I have served three parishes, and over half my ministry now (more than 13 years) has been spent here with you good people in Stoughton. We’ve gotten along pretty well, you and I. Our secret, I think, has been a mutual respect, a gentle forbearance, and a big sense of humor on both our parts. We have learned from one another, helped one another, and listened to one another.
Fundamental to my idea of ministry, from its earliest days, was the idea that sometimes the minister should be quiet- stand back- get out of the way, and let the people of the church share their talents and insights—
And that is what I am going to do right now, as I invite any of you who will to come forward, light a candle, and share your hopes for our dear church for the next year--