With Gratitude for Five Years as a Pastor

The five-year anniversary of my ordination as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, or Teaching Elder, in the Presbyterian Church (USA) was yesterday.

I’ve been a pastor for five years now.

It barely seems possible. Not just that it’s been five years, but that I’m a pastor at all. It’s something I wanted to do since I was a small child – I played make-believe church, I wished I had that mysterious experience of “feeling called to ministry” that never came, both as a child and an adult.

I still kind of get surprised that this is what I get to do for a living when I stop and think about it.

This is the longest I’ve been at any one job I’ve ever had. This is the longest I’ve been in a career field.

It’s been harder than I thought, and also easier than I thought, thanks to the kind folks at Fairplain, and to Kristen. I don’t think I’ve never considered quitting being a pastor because I didn’t like it or because it was too hard; only ever because I feared I was not up to the work.

With less than a week before Thanksgiving, and just with my surprise generally at remaining a pastor after all this time, I wanted to say some thank-you’s.

Some Thank-You’s

To My Family

  • My mom Ann for modeling faithful doubt before either of us had words for that
  • My wife Kristen,
    • who didn’t want to be married to a pastor but reluctantly agreed that I could go to seminary and then read my statement of mission and got mad because she said she had to let me do it because she wanted there to be more pastors like that.
    • Who tolerates her husband living the on-call life of a pastor
  • To my sister Maria, who didn’t appreciate my super-spiritual “Maybe you should read your Bible…” when she was feeling upset, and who subsequently threw it back in my face at any and every opportunity. Thanks for helping me not take myself too seriously.

To Fairplain Presbyterian Church

  • For taking a chance on a guy fresh out of seminary
  • For unanimously voting to call me as your pastor
  • For being patient with a pastor who had (and still has) an awful lot to learn about how to be a pastor
  • For your appreciation of my better sermons (and some I thought were worse), and your tolerance of some I’ve come to see as… well, sermons I could’ve improved upon.
  • For accepting me as your pastor
  • For keeping the guardrails up when I still sometimes get the order of service mixed up and start the prayers of the people before the prayer after the offering, or forget the Lord’s Prayer after the Prayers of the People.
  • For keeping your vow to pay me fairly. As membership has declined due to the pandemic and people dying of old age and leaving the area, you have faithfully kept my salary at the Presbytery minimum, which has increased every year. My family has never been rich, but we’ve never been in want, either.
  • For helping teach me how to be your pastor and offering me so much encouragement as my first call
  • For the honor of being your pastor through joy and sorrow, through celebration and far too many funerals
  • For the people who have stepped up to do work that they didn’t want to do or didn’t feel fully qualified to do or didn’t have time or energy to do it anyway because if they didn’t the church would have to close.

To countless others God used to make and keep me both a Christian and a pastor

  • To that one woman when I was maybe 14 years old who told me I was going to be a pastor, who I privately thought was wrong because I didn’t feel “called to ministry.”
  • To Alex, who was one of the first people to tell me I should go to seminary, years before I actually went.
  • To Ree Enlow for teaching me that I am a Beautiful Unrepeatable Miracle (BUM), and for making me believe she believed it, and for playing such a huge role in my spiritual formation.
  • To Jaye Beatty for investing time in me and helping me figure out that my grandfather’s alcoholism was still impacting my life and normalizing therapy.
  • To Professor Steve Leeper, for blowing my evangelical worldview wide open, and to Rachel Binkerd, who made me feel safe enough to let him.
  • To Greg Boyd, Jonathan Martin, Brian Zahnd, and Adam Hamilton, who each saved my faith in their own way at various points along the way.
  • To Morgan Guyton, who also helped save my faith, but also accepted my friend request and then invited me into a blogging collective.
  • To Dr. John Noble, for
    • Blowing my understanding of Genesis wide open, and
    • Talking to me when I showed up for office hours… a lot…
    • Sending me a Facebook message telling me he’d write me a letter of recommendation to seminary “when you’re ready.”
  • To Rev. Valerie Friedell, who I bugged a lot at her office at Huntington Church of the Brethren in college
  • To Rachel Held Evans, for sharing a blog post I wrote once, and to a whole bunch of other people who read that one and subscribed and followed me on Facebook and WordPress, and to those who were already following me before that.
  • To Chris Hirschy for telling me “Dude, you’re Presbyterian? You could go to Princeton for free!”
  • To Rev. Dr. Tom Trinidad, who was my pastor at the time I decided I wanted to go to seminary, who showed me a different way of being a pastor
  • To Faith Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, who accepted Kristen and me as members of their church and confirmed my call and sent me to CPM as an inquirer.
  • To Pueblo Presbytery and their CPM, under whose care I was from inquirer to candidate, who repeatedly voted to keep me in the process even though every time I met with them I half expected them to come to their senses and realize this was all a big mistake and remove me from the process. They never did.
  • To Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
    • For giving me a full scholarship including a housing allowance
    • For helping grow me further and teaching me so much about the faith I grew up in
  • To Dr. Steven Tuell, Dr.Ron Tappy, Dr.Helen Blier, Dr. Cathy Brall, and all the other professors at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who had an outsized impact and influence on my spiritual formation and understanding of scripture, and my life and work as a pastor.
  • To Revs. Rebecca Hickock and Peter de Vries for being my field ed supervisors and “showing me the ropes” of how to be a pastor in two different contexts
  • To Waverly Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and Old Union Presbyterian Church in Mars, PA, for letting me be their student pastor and practice being a pastor on them, and for sitting through what are almost certainly among my worst sermons.
  • To Charlie Starr and my CPE cohort who helped me get comfortable with being in a hospital with people
  • To the Presbytery of Lake Michigan
    • for giving me 20 minutes to answer questions about my faith and calling
    • and then voting (it sounded unanimous) to ordain me anyway
    • For being so many of my pastor friends
  • To the Presbyterian Church USA, and so many of my colleagues I only know through Facebook and Zoom but who have been my colleagues in ministry and such gifts.
  • To Rev. Laurie Hartzell, for teaching me how to be a pastor in Benton Harbor, specifically, and who worked generously with me
  • To the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the folks who led the CREDO conferences I attended in particular, as well as my CREDO cohort and small group. CREDO helped me take up new practices (and let go of some old ones) without which I’m not sure I would still be a pastor.
  • To Ryan, for playing disc golf with me most weeks since CREDO and treating me not as a pastor, but as a friend who happens to be a pastor. Being a pastor can be lonely work, and you’ve helped me feel less alone.

And to my treasures: You, the friends I made along the way.

To God

I put God last here, not because God goes last, but because you needed that context to understand. I see God as having been working in and through everything above this line. As I’m fond of saying, “God is involved in the process.”

Un-Credits: Things that are partially responsible for my success that I wish were otherwise

  • Sexism in America – I’ve seen far too many immensely talented female colleagues leave the ministry, or never even get through, and to a greater extent than men.
  • Cis-Heterosexism in America
  • Racism
  • A fundamentalist upbringing that
    • forced me to read the Bible and got me really really familiar with it, and
    • impressed upon me from a very young age that the highest calling a man (only a man, no women needed apply) could aspire to was as a pastor.

The Village That Built Me

Former President Barack Obama famously said of business owners and the things they needed without which they could not have created their business, “You didn’t build that,” but in this case, speaking of my five years as a pastor… I didn’t build that.

I myself did an awful lot of work, to be sure, but without this incredibly long list of people God brought into it, chance encounters and conversations, random messages of encouragement, and people I’m sure I’ve forgotten or neglected to mention who also played critical roles at critical times, like a professor who encouraged me after I failed the Bible Content Exam and was very much considering giving up and whose name I’ve embarrassingly forgotten.

Hillary Clinton said “It takes a village to raise a child,” and the longer I’ve been a parent the more I’m coming to know how true that is. It also takes a village to make a pastor, and my village has been enormous and beautiful, and I’m grateful to all of you, and to God for all of you.

About David M. Schell





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