“Church elder? Are you kidding me?”
This was my response to my pastor’s phone call asking me to serve on the Ginter Park Presbyterian Church Session as an elder, ordained, with a vote. I had been having issues with my snail mail getting lost, so the phone call preceded the official written invitation to Session. “Um….Carla, you do notice that I am not at church every Sunday, right?” I asked. “Yes, we notice. But we still think that you have gifts that would serve GPPC well,” she graciously replied. (I had hoped for one brief moment that my imaginary invisibility cloak had been ineffective and that everyone saw me there every Sunday.)
What you may not know is that I have been in a very dark and lonely place for some time, and I felt ill-equipped to help lead the church at the time I was called. I have suffered several miscarriages, and my faith was more than a little shaken. I have heavy demands on my time and energy, and postpartum depression is not spared post-miscarriage. I’ve had so many questions and fears and concerns, and being at church had become increasingly challenging because that is where I have left much of my pain. I cry in church, a lot. I weep because we have an amazing worship that acknowledges the pain of the world, I weep for my own loss, and I weep because I am deeply moved by beauty and faith. Doug’s musical ministry is beyond beautiful. After an uncomfortably long period of discernment (for someone who make 100 rapid-fire decisions a day), I was moved to accept the call because of my faith.
When I was at my lowest point, I was angry with God. When I shared my feelings with my mother, she informed me that my anger was good. “Good?!” I was stunned. She said, “Yes, it’s good because it means you are still in relationship with God, and that is all that matters.” Leave it to a loving, prayerful mother to reframe your anger into grace. After that, I dove back into the Word and began a long abandoned practice of daily devotionals. Months later, I have added evening and lunchtime devotions because the Word has become my solace. Never before has the Bible fed my soul so thoroughly. I feel nourished and grateful for every blessed passage I explore. God is with us always, even in our pain.
So I am in a much better place now, and the elder training has been illuminating. I am convinced we are doing it all wrong because I am having way too much fun with something I expected to be more somber and dry. Despite the laughter and the inspiring fellowship, we are exploring Presbyterian polity, the confessions, and the Word in ways that are shedding new light on old mysteries. I did not know how my presence would benefit the Session at first, but now I see beautiful new ways to help GPPC live more fully into its mission. Several meetings, discussions, assignments, and reflections later, I feel the decision to accept the call was not only right, it has accelerated my own healing by taking my spiritual focus off of me and placing it back on God’s kingdom—as it should be. I hope to help make GPPC a place people come to help, heal, and share their gifts and passions. I hope GPPC grows as a place where people feel spiritually nurtured and uplifted, and where, as Carla said at our last elder training, “we can be the best manifestation of church we can be.”
Tiffany Jana’s three children are in elementary school, high school, and college. She and husband Matthew Freeman are founders of TMI, a consulting business with emphases on cultural competence and diversity of thought. We thank her for this thoughtful piece as she prepares to join our Session in the fall. Watch this space for contributions from her fellow incoming elders.