Klaudia Smucker, Bally
“I am not planning on preaching,” I told one of my seminary professors. “I’m more interested in pastoral care and counseling.”
“Ask your minister anyway, and see if he can fit you into the preaching schedule,” he said.
James Waltner, my minister at College Mennonite at the time, said “Of course we can fit you into the preaching schedule.” I remember sitting up front before giving my first sermon, and having the feeling of wanting to run off the platform.
I began my student internship, not planning on being a pastor. But as the year went on, my seminary practicum, “Minister in the Church,” held many surprises. I preached, I led worship, I did pastoral care and counseling, and I loved every minute of it. I remember thinking, “This is the job I always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it.” My spiritual director noticed how enthusiastic and focused I was when I talked about my church work. She encouraged me to continue to seek God, and wait for answers. I prayed that if ministry was the right direction, it would be affirmed by others.
As I finished my practicum, I was sad to be ending something I enjoyed so much, and happy that I discovered something I loved. I decided to continue to work part time at my nursing job, and work my way through seminary, hoping that answers would eventually come. In my last week at the church, Nancy Kauffmann, on the CMC team, took me out to lunch and asked me if I had ever considered pastoral ministry. I said, “Yes. This practicum has opened whole new possibilities for me. I’m just not sure about the timing of it all.” She said, “I can’t promise you anything until we talk to the church board, but James and I believe you have gifts for ministry. We’d like to recommend hiring you to help us fill in some gaps.”
That was the beginning of my ministry journey, although as I look back, I can see that God’s hand was on me, leading, guiding, and bringing others my way to encourage me in that direction. When I preached a sermon as a 16-year-old on youth Sunday in the early 70’s, a woman came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes, and said, “If you were a man, you could be a preacher some day.” I remember hearing a woman speak with passion and inspiration and thought, “I want to do that for others.” After I gave a presentation in a committee meeting once, a woman said, “God has something in mind for you.”
Not all of the 12 years that I have been in ministry have been easy. Sometimes it has been hard, sad and all-consuming. I have laughed, cried, and lamented along with people as I’ve walked with them through marriage, births of children, difficult issues, personal illness and loss. All of those things inform my preaching, and remind me that life is uncertain. My faith has been strengthened as I’ve watched people trust and follow faithfully in the midst of extreme difficulty. I have felt God’s hand on me along the way, sometimes through wise and trusted mentors, sometimes after time in prayer, and sometimes in the voice of a stranger at the right place, at the right time. As I continue to walk forward in what God has called me to, my prayer is to keep my heart wide open as I continue to listen for whatever is next on the journey.