This week marks the two year anniversary of the beginning of my first call as an ordained minister in the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). It started out with presiding over the Ash Wednesday service at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Atlanta, GA, followed by my ordination service Friday night of that same week. Then we had a whopping total of two Sunday services in-person before having to make the switch to online services due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The questions that I brought into ministry quickly shifted in light of a global pandemic. Things I had been worried about, like: “What will it be like to be a transgender pastor in the South?” or “How do I build relationships with parishioners and maintain a healthy work-life balance?” gave way to more pressing issues. The new questions immediately took precedence: “How do we keep our congregation safe and healthy?”, “What digital platform is most appropriate for our context?”, “How do I build community and relationships with no chance at physical proximity?” I’ve been at this for two long years now, and not a day has passed where the questions haven’t changed on a daily basis.
I love this quote from Rilke and see it as a life mantra…
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.“
…yet I have to admit, the charge to “live” and “love the questions” at this point in history feels like a fast-paced, never-ending churning of the wheel of life. “Zoom? Facebook Live? YouTube?”, “Fix the leaking roof or invest in a video camera?”, “Can we sing? Hum? Tap our feet? Touch?”, “Masks required or optional?”, “Stay online or go back in person?” Honestly, these are not the questions that I want to be answering, and they are certainly not questions I can imagine living or loving for very long. As a pastor and theologian, I want to be asking questions more like, “Where is the Spirit moving in the world?”, “How do we embody the love of Christ in our community? In our city?”, “What spiritual practices and resources can best support us right now?” In short, I’d rather be asking the ‘spiritual’ questions than the ‘practical’ ones.
Then I remember that our Christian worldview has always involved a marriage of the spiritual and the practical, the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane. We claim that the Divine spirit of God became incarnate and lived in a very real, very human body in the person of Christ. There’s no way around it: the nitty-gritty stuff of everyday life is the only way to approach the heart of our faith. Perhaps pastoral care looks like walking a congregant through setting up a Zoom account. Perhaps evangelism looks like 2-minute video posts on social media. Perhaps public service looks like encouraging vaccines and testing for the health of the community. Perhaps the worshiping congregation looks more like a networked web of users than a concentrated hub of members. Perhaps we “will then gradually, without knowing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” May it be so.
Pastor Noah Herren was ordained and installed at St. Luke on February 28, 2020. He grew up in a small town outside of Birmingham, AL and earned a degree in Financial Planning from the University of Alabama. After working for banks and financial institutions for a decade, Noah felt the call to ministry while participating in a new church start-up in Birmingham. Noah attributes his passion for ministry and spirituality to his own journey of reconciling multiple theologies and his experience as a transgender man raised in the deep South. He graduated from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in August 2017, and has taken courses at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, SC) and Lutheran School of Theology (Chicago, IL). Following seminary, In his downtime you will find him reading, cooking, enjoying nature, watching movies, making playlists, playing guitar, writing, and spending time with his two teenage sons.
This blog post is a result of Leaders for Hybrid Futures, a community of learning and practice created by Rev. Tim Schenck and Learning Forte’s CEO, Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan, to reflect on and experiment with hybrid ministry. This innovative program is a partnership with LEAD, TX, and Learning Forte’s Digital Ministry Initiative and is funded by a leadership grant from Trinity Church, Wall Street.