The Job Interview I Failed
Apr 30, 2019
An article by MNYS Vice President Renée Wicklund
In terms of my professional life, I’ve been fortunate. After law school I clerked for a federal appellate judge and worked more than a decade with a large law firm. Then I took time off when my son was young, and when I didn’t want to return to the large firm, I encountered an ideal opportunity, at an upstart firm representing non-profit organizations, where I remain today. It’s a short resume.
But early on, before my legal career, there was one opportunity that didn’t work out: becoming a minister.
Although I was baptized in the Missouri Synod, my family was not church-going after my parents divorced, when I was five. Still, from childhood I found myself pulled to faith. At a Catholic high school, I attended mass at least weekly, and put so much effort into required theology classes that one Franciscan friar advised me to consider ministry as a career. Imagine that—a Franciscan advising a teenage girl to consider ministry. When I moved at 16 to Germany, I found an evangelische church home. In college, majoring in religious studies, I affiliated with the ELCA and became active in Lutheran Campus Ministry, eventually serving as vestry president.
Toward the end of college came a time of discernment, as I wondered whether ministry was the natural fit I had once assumed—and if it was, why I was feeling so ambivalent.
I decided to buy some time. After college graduation, I enrolled in the University of Chicago Divinity School, but in the academic doctorate program, not the M.Div. program. I studied theology and history of Christianity, right alongside M.Div. students. And by the time I finished my master’s degree, I realized something: that I lack the gift of patience and the day-to-day administrative talents that make an effective minister, and most importantly, that I felt no real sense of call to ordination.
I appreciated having certainty on the issue. On the other hand, being in my young 20s and concluding, after considerable discernment, that I was not cut out for ordination seemed a lot like failing a job interview with the Holy Spirit. If I wanted to enter the ministry, and if my path up till then seemed to be leading toward the ministry, why wasn’t I feeling a call? Why, to the contrary, was I feeling like I would not be very good at that vocation?
Twenty-three years old and already a failure. “Thanks a lot, Holy Spirit!”
So I did, I suppose, what many young people do who are book-smart and lacking direction: I went to law school. Then I graduated, met my husband, had a son, became active in community, church, and synod. Life moved on.
Last February, when I was approached about whether I would consider standing for MNYS vice-president, I entered a new period of discernment, to think about what the job would entail, and whether it matched with the skills I’ve acquired in adulthood. These days, I know about the law, and about non-profit governance, corporate boards, managing colleagues, and running meetings. I’ve also learned a lot in 15 years on and off the synod council, plus service on half a dozen committees and task forces. I began to see that where I am in life, now, aligns well with the vice-president position. And most importantly, I began to feel a sense of call, which only strengthened as the 2018 synod assembly drew nearer.
Finally, another 23 years after that first failed interview with the Holy Spirit, I realized what had been going on. I hadn’t really failed. Instead, the Holy Spirit had something different in mind for me, something that would take time and trust to discover. I was meant to build a legal career and, along that path, to become a professional who could fill the lay role of vice-president.
Lacking a call to ordination is not the same as lacking a call to service. It never was.
As we approach this year’s assembly, I encourage lay members throughout our synod to consider whether the Holy Spirit may be calling them to greater service, and what skills they may have acquired to prepare for such roles, even without realizing it was happening. There is a path for each of us. The Holy Spirit will reveal it in time, and maybe that time is now.