Whose turn is it?

Rev. Brittany Richardson Watson

Rev. Brittany Richardson Watson

By Brittany Richardson Watson
Special Contributor

A couple of weeks ago I watched my two-year-old son try to put on his shoes by himself while mumbling “Joseph’s turn” under his breath. “Joseph’s turn” is a phrase that echoes through the halls of our parsonage as this little human begins to assert his new, independent lifestyle.

On this day, “Joseph’s turn” meant that he was putting his shoes on backwards, sideways, on the wrong foot, pretty much any way but the right way. It was driving me crazy, and I was using every ounce of self-restraint to stay on the couch and let him try to figure it out. I sat on my hands and looked the other way as he patiently made his 23rd attempt at sliding his foot into the shoe. Patience is not my gift; neither is relinquishing control.

However, trust, which was absent for so long in my life and ministry, has become a crucial spiritual discipline. So I sat and watched.

Learning to trust

The power of trust has been revealed to me primarily by the people of Sylvan Hills United Methodist Church. In the last 14 months, these faithful men and women have gently guided me (read: shoved me) into a ministry that is bigger than me. I imagine that this was not an easy task, but their willingness to build trust where little had been before has been an incredible gift.

In my two previous appointments, I didn’t need to trust the congregations because I was the super associate pastor who could single-handedly plan a Bible study, make a brochure, update the website and cook a fine spinach casserole for the Sunday potluck. I didn’t need help. I didn’t even need congregation members, because I had it all under control. It was always “Brittany’s turn.”

Or so I thought. It never occurred to me that by having it all under control, what I was actually doing was denying the members of my church community an opportunity to do ministry.

I figured I was doing everyone a favor by taking care of every minute detail of ministry for them. I truly thought I was helping, that I was doing the work of my ministry, the work that God called me to do. That is, until I got to Sylvan Hills UMC, where “Brittany’s turn” would no longer be tolerated.

In my first meeting with our lay leader, she mentioned that this was a congregation that insisted on being a part of the day-to-day ministry of the church. I nodded, not completely comprehending what she was telling me. It was in the coming months that I understood what she meant.

Laity unleashed

As I reminded them of my black thumb, a community garden ministry organized and planted raised beds filled with vegetables. As I worried about finding support for those who were grieving, a woman in my congregation approached me about her passion for helping those in the midst of loss and grief. As I talked about liabilities and volunteer recruitment, a group of nurses opened a monthly wellness clinic to promote health and provide care for our community. In effect, these faithful and loving people were simply saying, “our turn.”

In our mission plan, Bishop Mueller has called us to “unleash the laity.” To do this, we must first and foremost trust the laity. We must realize that there are gifts, ideas and passions within their hearts that are not only important, but also world-changing. We clergy must recognize that God’s call on their life is just as real, just as substantial, just as transformational as our own.

The laity have been unleashed at Sylvan Hills United Methodist Church, not by my hands, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, who has been forcefully reminding all of us that it is “our turn” to transform the world.

By the way, Joseph finally got the shoe on his foot. It took about 10 minutes. This morning it only took seven minutes, and I expect that by next week he will get the hang of it and have his time down to a respectable three minutes. His way may not always be my way. His way may sometimes frustrate me to tears. However, his way is just that, his way. A way that will lead to places that I could never imagine. A way that is paved by trust, patience and a quiet reminder that it is not always “my turn.”

The Rev. Watson serves as pastor of Sylvan Hills UMC Sherwood.