When I was growing up, the calendar in our kitchen was always full of Mom’s notes about her volunteer activities. She was active in the PTA for a while as well as multiple nonprofits and regional committees related to causes she was passionate about. My dad’s way of supporting her passion usually involved helping to set up or put away chairs at an event or making endless pots of his signature chili beans and cornbread for potlucks and fundraising events. Given their examples of service, it’s no surprise that I have held the same value as a high priority in my life.
That said, serving on Floris UMC’s Church Council as lay leader was not on my mind at all before I was invited to consider it. I was familiar with what would be required; I had served in other laity leadership roles in my previous Methodist church. What I realized when I was asked to pray about serving is that I was holding a certain idea of the lay leader role based only on those prior experiences. Lay leaders I’d known in past churches were often long-time members, frequently retired folks, who demonstrated consistent discipleship and who sometimes filled in for the pastor when he or she was on vacation. I’m thinking of two of these people right now as I type this. They were and still are people I greatly admire because of their example.
The same examples that make me smile now felt like intimidating, self-imposed pressure in that initial conversation about serving at Floris UMC. “Who am I, as just an ordinary person in midlife, to say I have a life of faith all figured out?” I remember thinking. That, and the fact that I have a wonderful career that involves a bit of travel and family members that periodically need my help as a caregiver, also felt like good reasons to decline. I was concerned to say yes and then let others down. You may be thinking the same about yourself and your life as you read this.
But something happened when I prayed about this. I remembered that service is not about perfection, and it certainly isn’t about knowing all of the answers. My belief about leadership, in particular, is that it takes just as much humility as it does confidence because you are guaranteed not to know everything all the time. I also gave myself a bit more credit for the consistency of my existing faith practice even as I considered how serving in the role could add to my spiritual growth. Finally, I thought about one of the reasons I was so attracted to Floris UMC to begin with: a clear passion for making a difference that you can sense in the people and activities. So, after prayer, a thoughtful conversation with our lead pastor, Rev. Tom Berlin, and our Church Council chairperson, Rick Auman, I said yes. I have loved serving as lay leader for nearly four years now.
It is bittersweet for me to think about my service as lay leader ending this December. It has been a privilege to represent our congregation on Church Council. I know we’re encouraged not to be prideful, but do you all realize how extraordinary you are? I’ve loved seeing people of all ages get commissioned on mission trips, serve as summer camp or Hutchison volunteers, take the next step toward baptism or confirmation or play the all-important role of usher or greeter so our hospitality is on full display for everyone who approaches our campus. I talk about our church and its people all the timejust ask anyone in my circle who doesn’t attend here. One of my favorite parts of this role has been seeing people who started as visitors come back and claim Floris UMC as their new church home. When I volunteer at Coffee with the Pastors, I frequently hear new members say it was our warm welcome and our sense of community that played a big role in their decision to join us.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you one question: What comes to mind for you when you think about volunteering in a leadership role at church? Does it make you curious? Nervous? Excited? You might still have concerns about it or questions about what type of opportunity would be a good fit for you. I would love to talk with you about that and want to assure you that having a conversation does not mean you’re committing yourself to something. Remember what I said about my own journey: it may take time to discern your next step, and we all have different gifts that could be used in ways that we don’t even see yet. It starts with listening.
In fact in the end, it was one of my favorite quotes (below) from Marianne Williamson that reminded me that service is about listening to what you believe God is calling you to and then stepping forward in faith, trusting that he will equip you for the journey. If nothing else, I hope you’ll take the time to pray about what God is calling you to in this season of your life. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”