Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There is Always Money in the Banana Stand

You can read the earlier post Everything Is Changing to get caught up on what's happening.  In this post I reflect a little on the difficult choice to make a career change, as well as let you know what I am planning to do with my time when I become suddenly rather underemployed!

I will be retiring from ministry in February of 2016.  That's the language I have been adopting of late, the language of "retirement."  For some it will feel like a short career and the use of that terminology will feel entirely premature, but it doesn't feel that way to me.  I began working in church settings in earnest as far back as 1993.  I had taken the previous semester off from my undergrad studies at CU Boulder, and found myself available for an opportunity to take a mission trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, where I lived and worked for 5-6 months.  When I returned to Boulder and took up my studies at CU again, I felt the call of full-time ministry, and began preparing myself for that.  I started working part-time in a small church in Boulder and become active in the college fellowship group through First Presbyterian Church.  I spent my summers working for a Christian camp/adventure ministry, a fun time plying the waters of the Arkansas River as a whitewater guide, but also a productive crucible of leadership training.  In late spring of 1996 I interviewed for full-time ministry positions and was offered a job as an intern at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, in the Bay Area.  After one last summer of full-time work on the river, I took up church ministry full time and have been engaged with that, in one way or another, for the past 20 years.

I will spend future posts doing a bit more reflection on some of the intervening events, but I describe that timeline so that you might understand the language of retirement.  I have put time into this calling, and more than time - 20 years of effort, creativity, training, strain, risk, and at times, sacrifice.  And after 20 years, I am ready for something new, really new, not just a change of location, the same set of responsibilities in a different context.  I am not seeking employment in another church, nor do I have plans to do so.  It is time for me to retire from ministry.

But now what?  There is a pile of studies citing clergy burnout and dissatisfaction out there, and my own experience in talking with colleagues is that there are many who would entertain career changes....if they felt they could.  But the truth is, many of us feel we cannot.  We have been trained for a strange context of work, molded into something of a priestly caste, an embodiment of a very ancient role crammed into a contemporary world.  We are trained, sometimes formally, at times informally, in history, theology, psychology, homiletics, biblical studies, organizational leadership.  We act in the capacity of counselor, leader, coach, friend, boss, teacher, social director, community organizer, funeral director, wedding coordinator, facilities manager, CEO and CFO.

These might seem marketable skills, but all of this work occurs in the strange world of the church, which has its own internal language and logic.  It doesn't always sync well with the rest of the world, and there are old adages that describe that disconnect - "Pastors are too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.", or, one of my favorite variations I heard while in seminary was (forgive the inherent gender bias), "There's a man's hands...and there's a pastor's hands."  The implication, of course, is that the pastor's hands are not accustomed to difficult work, to real work.  There is plenty of hard work to do in the church, exhausted clergy are a testimony to it - but one of the things that contributes to clergy burnout is the strange isolation that occurs in such work.  As much as one receives accolades and appreciation from the people you serve, it can feel that there are golden handcuffs slowly being tightened over time.  Some would leave if they could, but where would they go?  What work would their specific training be good for?  The silence that follows these questions contributes to a sense of hopelessness, depression, or despair.

I've lived with a growing sense of those very feelings for some time now.  First it gnaws away slowly, at the edge of one's consciousness.  After a time, escape fantasies are imagined, I'm sure everyone engages in those kinds of flights of fancy, as natural as wondering about that grass on the other side of the fence.  But there comes a time when questions like, "What might I do with my life if...." get paired with internal realizations like, "I can't do this anymore."  A powerful moment - a moment when it becomes clear that it is time for a change.  This moment arrived for me several years ago, and I began to take up the task of imagining a new future.

What I've come up with is a mix of lot of my own interests and passions as well as something that I hope will accommodate some of the things I've learned about myself over the years.  I have long taken pleasure in agrarian pursuits, and some of you have followed me through some of the adventures in farming and the like.  I have been paying attention to the joy I find in all of that, and so when time came to think about my future, it felt right to give serious consideration to something in that arena. 

So, beginning early next year, I will be stepping into a couple of notable new pursuits.  The first is a new business, it is called Northwest Bees, LLC.  Over the past several years, I have been growing in my experience and capacity as a beekeeper.  Yes, a keeper of bees.  Northwest Bees will be a small business focused on pollination, honey and wax product sales, and the sale of bees and equipment.  I've been at work already, in my spare moments, selling honey locally, building up a bee yard, investing in equipment.  Now I will be trying to make a go of it, building up the numbers of colonies for Northwest Bees, developing our brand, and building contract relationships with growers in the region.

A new business is a lot of work, and I don't pretend to know my way around it all yet - there will be a lot to learn as I grow this thing into what I hope will be a legitimate way to provide for myself and my family, as well as contribute to the Yakima Valley.  I'll be telling you more about this new venture in future posts, including what it is that draws me to it and some of our plans for the future of this new business!

Northwest Bees will not be a business that can fully provide for our family's needs in its first few years.  I am looking forward to contributing to the local community in several other ways, including spending some of my time helping out at the Yakima Maker Space.  This special community is a fusion of art, craft, and imagination, and is an expression of a lot of what I value and hope for in the Yakima Valley.  

Apart from these things, you may also find me pursuing all manner of new interests and vocation in the area, I'll be patching together a network of work opportunities that I hope will equate to a life that is both interesting and sustainable.

It is terrifying and exciting.  I have a family to consider, and all of those insecurities about what a pastor is good for linger on the edge of my mind, chipping away at my confidence.  Wouldn't it be easier to just stick in the job I have, to occupy my mind with distractions and just collect the paycheck?  Certainly I've seen others do that - and every time I saw it I swore to myself that I would not let myself become that kind of pastor, the one on auto-pilot, the one siphoning off the resources of a church community because they could not think of another way to make a living.  I am scared - but also determined; and grateful.  Grateful for the support and encouragement of my wife who has taken up her own career again, which allows us to take on this change together, in mutual support of the whole family system.  Grateful for the support and encouragement of friends who I have shared this wild idea with and have given a thumbs-up, or helped me dream of how to make it happen.

With a little luck, and a lot of work, Northwest Bees will grow into a new future for me, for my family.  And along the way I am looking forward to being a positive, contributing member of the Yakima community in new ways.

I will write again soon, and reflect some more on this big change.  Thanks for following along!

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