The Thing I Thought I'd Never Say
By Derek Penwell
I’m a minister. Which is to say, I work as a minister . . . in a church.
Historically, I’ve found myself reluctant to offer that bit of information in casual conversation, not because ministry occupies a position inherently more shameful than a host of other vocational options, but because when people find out that I’m a minister they either want me to answer their questions about whether I watch TBN, or they want to impart some theological nugget they’ve mined from Franklin Graham or The Left Behind series.
Please don’t misunderstand—I like questions. In fact I entered the ministry because of some of the questions I had about life and its ultimate meaning. My problem lies not in questions in themselves, but in questions about whether or not I believe that the World Council of Churches, Democratic politicians, and LGTBTQ and #BlackLivesMatter activists form a shady cabal intent on ushering in the anti-Christ and a one-world government—complete with standard issue UPC codes emblazoned on everyone’s forehead, or whether I’ve finally come to my senses and realized that mega-churches are the goal of God’s reign here on earth.
The fact is I like being a minister, in large part, because of the conversations that attach to a life spent following such a strange, quixotic, compelling character as Jesus. The conversations, however, that seem to me to be important to have center on questions of justice, non-violence, grace, faithfulness, friendship, and devotion, rather than the sort of mass-produced fare provided by a popular religious culture that asks nothing more of Christians than that they act nice, refrain from swearing in public, and oppose any effort to normalize LGBTQ people as rightful participants in our religio-politico-cultural life.
To put a finer point on it, I like being a minister at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. I’m blessed to belong to a community of faith that takes seriously our call to live out the example of Jesus in the best way we know how. DBCC is a community unafraid to take a chance on following Jesus down a dark alley. I like that. I like the sense of adventure I find in a church like that, as well as the adventurous thoughts I have when I think about what we can do together.
I guess this is all a long way of saying that my thoughts about ministry have evolved since coming to Douglass. Many of the things I do don’t even feel particularly like work.
In fact, now when I’m asked what I do, I tell people I’m a minister at this really great church that seeks justice for the marginalized, that provides embrace for those who’ve been excluded, that looks into the eyes of the forgotten and says, “You’re welcome here.”
Though we’re not perfect, we are constantly looking for ways to grow and be better.
I’m a minister. I just thought you should know. I never thought I’d say that.