The Full Circle (Elias Mendes-Gomes)

For centuries, the ancient church performed a liturgical dance called tripudium. It was regularly used in worship services and processions where the worshipers, either in line or in a row, took three steps forward and one step back. The dance was a visual reminder that the Kingdom of God is always moving forward but not without setbacks.

As I reflect on my journey as an ordained minister, I realize that the tripudium is a good metaphor to describe my experience in ministry, especially in the context of a global pandemic.

It is no secret that the pandemic has changed our world and that many are still struggling under its weight. In the past few months, countless people have been reassessing their jobs, recalibrating their priorities and, in the process, redirecting their lives. Apparently, it takes a pandemic to birth in us a willingness to evaluate what really matters in life.

This exodus of workers has been primarily from areas such as retail, health care, and hospitality, and has since been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” Ministry (in particular, congregational ministry) has not been immune to this trend.

In a research released in November/2021, the Barna Group reported that 38% of (American) ministers are seriously considering leaving full-time congregational ministry. The percentage increases to 51% among ministers in mainline denominations. The full report can be accessed here.

Although I dislike being part of such gloomy stats, that is where I am heading. After much prayer and soul-searching, I have come to realize that my experiences, languages, multi-faith contact, gifts and skillset would be better utilized in a ministry setting where different aspects of caring (social justice, educational, hospitality and compassion ministries) integrate with congregational ministry.

At first, the possibility of a redefinition of my ministry made me feel uneasy. Now, however, I am realizing that “calls” are not set in stone. Sometimes people are called to address a particular need or circumstance – for a period of time – rather than assume a permanent role.

The case in my mind is that of Stephen and Philip who were originally called to help distribute provisions to the Greek-speaking widows (Acts 6:1-6). Soon thereafter both appear in the role of evangelists. At many junctures in life, ministers find themselves reevaluating their specific form of ministry and often make changes.

Returning to the tripudium metaphor, this change in ministry can be deemed a step back, not as a setback, but rather as an opportunity to grow in the understanding of myself, the gifts bestowed on me, and what gives me joy and a sense of fulfillment, which is what Frederick Buechner once defined as ‘vocation’: “The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

There is a lot at stake and I have a long path ahead of me. For my part I have counted the cost and accepted the way the vision is unfolding. The Kingdom of God continues moving forward triumphantly… even when we take a step back to refine our calling in such a challenging time.

God’s grace uphold us all.

The Rev. Elias Mendes-Gomes
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray (AB)