Jul 12 2013

The Best Laid Plans

This summer 14 Candler students are serving in ministry through Candler Advantage, a paid summer internship in conjunction with Candler’s Contextual Education Program.  Over the course of the summer many of these students will be sharing their experiences here on the blog.

Uncertainty. Risk. Out of Control. Variability.Joya Abrams

These are all words that cause my engineer’s mind to cringe! I was taught that my job as an engineer was to manage uncertainty, avoid or mitigate risk, keep control, and reduce variability. So I’m sure you can imagine just how hard it is for me, a former engineer, to submit to the will of God and a life in ministry where the only certainty is God’s love and accompaniment, there is ultimate risk, I have little control, and daily life is variable.

My usual approach to work involves creating a project plan and executing it, relying on my brain power and a little prayer. I am most comfortable when I hold the reins and can affect an outcome. The truth of ministry and life in general is that if my comfort relies on my control, I will never be comfortable! I can lay down thoughtful and prayerfully considered plans, but it is not I who has the power to bring the vision to life, it is God.

When I started working at Cumberland United Methodist Church a couple of summers ago, I had the idea to open the church to the community for prayer. The church sits at a crossroads. It is surrounded by office buildings, a major corporation, apartments, and houses. I used to work for the major corporation whose building is visible from the church property. When I was an employee there, I wished that there were a place to go during the day to pray other than my car in the hot parking deck.

When I applied for a Candler Advantage internship at Cumberland UMC for this summer, this prayer time was one of the projects I had in mind since I would be there 40 hours per week.

To address the need that I believed the community had (since it was my need a few years ago), I started a mid-day drop-in time for prayer and meditation on Tuesdays. I made postcards, placed information on social media and the website, and put an invitation on the church marquee. I set up the sanctuary to be cool and peaceful. I unlocked the doors of the church and waited for people to come. That first Tuesday, only one person came to pray—my husband.

Cumberland UMCI cried on Wednesday because I failed. After talking with a few wise clergywomen, I realized that I hadn’t failed. Sure, I could have done more publicity, but they reminded me that just because only a few people have come does not mean that I have not been faithful. The beginning of a new mission or ministry may begin small. It is like discovering that you are pregnant (I am a mother of two). When you find that you are pregnant, you cannot see or really feel all of the changes happening inside of you. You have to wait several months before you can hopefully meet the new little person. All the while, that baby is growing and developing in secret. I believe that this is how the mission of the prayer time is growing. I cannot see how the Holy Spirit is moving in the community to bring people to God through this time, but I have faith that it is. We will leave the marquee announcement up. We will invite more people. We pray that God will touch the hearts of the people who see the invitations so that they will come. At the very least, I am praying more.

Through the experience of a slow start to the prayer time I am learning that ministry requires courage to do what you believe God is calling you to do. The results may be something beyond your own imagination. One person has come to the prayer time who is not affiliated with this church, so I know that at least one person was touched by the Holy Spirit to come to this place. (This person actually came twice!!) To pray in the middle of the day in a church may be exactly what will fulfill a spiritual need in this community, but it is also a new behavior that will take time to catch on. I still have friends who work for the corporation around the corner. The work conditions are the same. There is a need for sacred space during the workday. We, as Methodists, believe that we can experience the presence of God anywhere, but sometimes it is good to go to a place where all you are doing is basking in God’s loving presence. My ongoing prayer, as the church continues to offer this time of prayer for the community, is that more people will come to experience this time of sanctuary.

My journey into ministry, into becoming a minister and hopefully a pastor, requires that I learn to seek the peace and comfort of God first, not the safety of expected outcomes. This life of ministry requires trust in God and not just in my efforts or plans—quite the opposite of my previous engineering career. I have my job to do, but I am not working alone. My plan is not the most important one. I can only exercise control over a little and that is okay.

– Joya L. Abrams

Joya is a rising third year MDiv student at Candler.  She is a certified candidate for ministry in the North Georgia Conference.