No Place But Here

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“There is no place you need to be but here” has become a centering phrase for me over the past few months. Gretchen Ziegenhals from Duke Leadership began our past two “Seek the Welfare” cohort gatherings with the words. Each time her gentle voice said it, voices in my head tried to argue with her. I was sitting on Zoom for four hours, three days in a row. Of course, there were other places I needed to be. But I would repeat it back to myself until it settled in. There is no place you need to be but here.

It’s a phrase that evokes active patience. It takes courageous endurance to be right here.

This week has been one of the strangest weeks of my life. We flew to South Dakota for vacation last Friday, and then on Sunday, while we rode a train into Keystone, my letter went out to the congregation sharing the news that I’ve sensed God’s call to close my chapter as associate pastor at Highland Baptist. It was a decision that came to me at the end of June, whose timing to come out to the congregation coincides with our already scheduled vacation. There were moments this week when I felt like I had blown up my life and fled for the Black Hills. When I described that feeling to a friend, she texted back, “It was always going to be awkward.” She was right – it was always going to feel strange.

With each morning’s sunrise, I stole out to our front porch for a few moments alone, and I spoke it aloud to myself: There is no place I need to be but here.  Trusting God’s voice on this internal journey, I know that there is no place I need to be but here at the beginning of an ending.  Here is the beginning of in-between time.  Here is the threshold moment, when I have initiated change, the news has reached the congregation, and a new relationship with this people of God is on the horizon.

I have had this unique gift of serving the church in which I grew up. Highland began calling forth my gifts at the young age of 22, just out of college. Highland shaped me over the past 15 years in ways that it’s going to take time to know fully. This beloved community of faith and I have been knit together by both task and salary, identity and story, full-voice hymns, and honest story-telling.  

Six years ago, during a time of vocational discernment, I received the sense that God has called me to a people rather than a position. Specifically, God called me the people who gather at Grinstead and Cherokee within the stone walls of Highland Baptist Church. I moved from a position as Minister to Youth into Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Congregational Engagement. Now, I move from one of Highland’s pastors to one of Highland’s priesthood of all believers.  

When I told our kids over dinner on our cabin’s front porch surrounded by the Black Hills, they started using the language of “retirement.” A few years ago, our senior pastor and senior associate pastor retired, so it’s the only language they have for a moment like this. Clearly, I’m not retirement age, and my vocational life isn’t over at age 37, but there is a real sense that something sacred is coming to a close.

As this change approaches, I am moving through the present moment with vulnerability and tenderness. Emotions and thoughts fill me – many of which coincide even as they appear to contradict. I grieve initiating an ending to this sacred work alongside the people, both laity and staff, who provide my life with shared meaning and joy-filled connection. At the same time, I rejoice that I have been more at ease than I have been in years, as the mantle of ministry at a church so embedded within my soul and life story has been both gift and labor to carry. There is no place I need to be but here – here in these muddled feelings, present to even this sacred season that hurts and releases.

I’ve got a lot of personal work ahead of me as I process the ending of this season. I have no idea what comes next, which is, peculiarly, a piece of why I am leaving now before seeking another job. I discerned this summer that my ties with Highland are so vast, deep, and wide that I cannot imagine a next vocational call until I enter into a season of vocational stillness. This fall, I hope to begin my in-between time by reflecting upon these fifteen years, processing through my memories, discerning the lessons, gifts, and stories that I will carry into the next chapter.

I am sure of this truth, even amidst a foggy South Dakota morning: what matters most is that what remains even after the ending. I cannot rush this season, nor do I want to. There is no place I need to be but here.

We board our plane momentarily for home, where I will enter into a month where I will transition tasks to others, find space for my black robe in my home closet, clean out my office, and turn in my keys. Then in September, the real work begins: pausing and giving thanks for the love that remains.

There is no place I need to be but here. Thanks be to God.

One thought on “No Place But Here

  1. Uncle Wayne

    Carol: Thanks for sharing your thoughts while standing at a crossroad in your journey of faith. Fortunately, there is a right time for everything where God is concerned, so pray and continue to do good while you wait for the Lord to illuminate the path ahead.

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