The spiritual journey to a secular job

I’ve got one thing on my mind, baby, and that one thing is…fundraising.

Sexy, right?

The Oakland Peace Center is hosting our very first fundraising campaign ever, and it is all I can think about right now.

I sent a couple of appeal emails to people I know through church, and it got me thinking about how a pastor ended up setting up a nationbuilder account and encouraging friends to host house parties instead of creating liturgy and preaching about stewardship. It also got me wondering, if I was called to the spiritual life, why does this secular work feel more spiritually fulfilling?

I sent an appeal to a long ago boyfriend, one who had come to my ordination in 2005, and he wrote back to ask if the Oakland Peace Center was in addition to my ministry.

Now, when my father describes my work to my family in India, he says (in Bengali) “she’s just like Mother Theresa,” and I demur.

So it’s funny that my response to the old beau was, “actually, it is my ministry. I like to think of myself as just like Father Greg Boyle, except WAY less cool.” (I’ve met Father Boyle; I even worked in a program that partnered with Homeboy Industries. And it’s sad but true: I’m WAY less cool.)

The fact of the matter is, I LOVE what the Oakland Peace Center is all about. I LOVE getting to work with partners transforming the community on every front. I LOVE being constantly in touch with people who are compassionate and people who are deeply reflective and people who are radical changemakers.

I love feeling like I’m surrounded by the people who are the change we wish to see in the world.

And I also think part of what I love is the newness. The systems aren’t totally broken because the systems for the most part don’t yet exist. People aren’t completely exhausted because together we haven’t done much yet.

 

I keep saying that this is my first fundraising campaign. That’s not totally true. In my first year pastoring the church that is generously giving its building over to the Oakland Peace Center, I encouraged the congregation to engage in a “Raise the Future/Raise the Roof” campaign to raise the $10,000 we needed to re-roof the building. I asked them to come up with the names and hopefully the addresses of people who remembered their time at the church fondly and had moved away, who would be excited that the church was undergoing a renewal effort and would help us keep the building from falling apart.

They said there weren’t any people who had money. They said they didn’t know how to reach people. They said those people had lost touch and obviously didn’t really care about the church the way the people who had stayed did. They said everyone else had financial obligations to their own churches.

I finally cobbled together a list of forty people that I sent letters to.

And the church members were right. I don’t think we got a single donation.

 

It’s the second day of our fundraising effort at the OPC and we’ve raised $675 so far. (If you want to know how to help with that, there are some great and pretty easy ways to do help us reach our goal!)

One thing that’s different this time is I was so excited to email people about the work I’m doing. I had fun sending every email (and I spent 16 hours emailing). And I think I’ll have fun when I do individual messages on facebook, too! That’s because I’m not raising money for the grim sort-of-hope-but-more-like-determination of something to come but maybe not. I’m raising money for something real that is making a difference in people’s lives right now. (In fact, I’ve done this work for three years unpaid, waiting for the moment I felt like we had the right to ask people to contribute.) And part of what is amazing about it is that we haven’t been together long enough to get worn down or disheartened or fatigued. We haven’t stopped believing in one another. This fundraising campaign feels like my first because it feels nothing like the last one. It’s for a secular organization and it is saturated with spirit.

 

A colleague of mine is writing his Doctor of Ministry about pastors who switch from religious to secular work in their middle age. A few of the people he talked to have had to go through some really serious spiritual wrestling: what does it mean to be called to the ministry and then not be able to serve in a traditional congregational setting, or even to no longer wear the title “pastor” or “Reverend.”

I haven’t had to go through that. Maybe it’s because for me (like for many of my just starting out ministry colleagues) ministry was saturated with a sense of nothing I did making much of a difference and rarely feeling a sense of hope or possibility for the future of the church; I could neither help my church truly live or come to terms with the fact that it was a terminal case. Working with the Oakland Peace Center has given me two gifts: it allowed me to give a largely unspoken gift to the congregation of preserving the building they love so that they can end their congregational life without guilt when they so choose, and it allowed me to do what I always wanted to do in ministry: create a space for others’ thriving so that they can be of greater service to the world.

To me, that’s a pastor at his or her best. And that’s the entirety of my work with the Oakland Peace Center. I help keep a desperately needed space running and eventually will help rehabilitate it. I connect amazing peacemakers with each other. I share their stories with the world so their work gets the acknowledgement it deserves. I aspire to providing capacity-expanding resources and skill building to the partners that want it. And they do the work in the world.

Nine years after I got ordained, I feel like the bulk of my life is really given over to my calling. And I am lighter of being for it.

And the interesting thing is, people keep calling me the pastor of the Oakland Peace Center or introducing me as Rev. Jha of the Oakland Peace Center. And I think that’s a testament to the opportunity of this moment: people know that a divine spirit inhabits the Oakland Peace Center. And it doesn’t need to be a church to do that. And I don’t need to be at a church to be a minister. I don’t even need to be called a minister to be one.

And many (although not all) of the people contributing to the OPC campaign are people I have met through church who are excited to support creating access, opportunity and dignity as the means of creating peace.

So while I wouldn’t say it during working hours, thank Christ for the Oakland Peace Center.

And thank Christ that I get to do ministry all the time now.

Comment (1)

  1. Beckysue Duran

    Congratulations on finding your perfect ministry option! I think it’s completely awesome that you can take Christ’s love and passion to a secular setting.

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