Choosing a path toward pastoral ministry and joy

Mark Derstine

mark_derstine.jpgI turned 60 years of age last month. It is an important marker indicating how far I have journeyed in the path of life. For those of you who are younger, it may seem that my journey is already a long one. Many of the older adults I serve with as chaplain at Souderton Mennonite Homes, in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, remind me that God may yet grant many years of life and service.

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” he speaks about two roads diverging in a yellow wood. One could not travel both, one needed to make a choice. I have experienced many such choices. Sometimes these choices have been difficult because both pathways may appear to be within God’s will and are encouraged by others. Sometimes these choices are even more difficult when there are more than two pathways to choose from. Sometimes one has to choose when no pathway is visible, plunging into the brush with fear and trembling.

But the paths I have experienced have been far from straight or easy. There have been many turns and detours and new directions. An unexpected fork in the road that had profound impact occurred during my first year at Eastern Mennonite College. I received my military draft notice. I was not granted student deferment and needed to leave college after my first semester. I was clear about my conviction to serve in the way of peace and non-violence and chose two years of alternate service as a psychiatric aide.

Following these two years, marriage to Carolyn Mininger, daughter of Harold and Myrtle Mininger of Souderton, PA, joined our paths together for the journey since that time. It has included finishing my college studies at Eastern Mennonite College, then moving to Washington, DC where I served as “congregational coordinator” at Hyattsville Mennonite Church for two years, then working in a “youth counseling” program for two years at a Family Service Agency on the outskirts of Washington DC, and then a move to Elkhart, IN where I completed my seminary degree at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.

My first clear call and service in pastoral ministry began in 1978, when I responded to the call to serve as Associate Pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. I was blessed in many ways to be able to share in ministry at Blooming Glen because I felt the encouragement and support of many members. During these years I also became aware that the calling and responsibilities of pastoral ministry increasingly became a personal struggle and stress. I came to the conviction that I needed to leave the pastoral ministry for my own healing and wholeness.

I joined an insurance agency in Souderton. It became a very different kind of ministry. I had the opportunity to serve and relate to many different kinds of persons. It became a place of healing and renewal for me that would be the focus of my vocational life for the next 18 years, much longer than I would have imagined.

Several years ago I felt the restlessness of God calling again. At first I didn’t know what this new path would be. The more I searched and received the counsel of others; I was drawn to reclaim the calling to pastoral ministry. This time, I was led on toward ministry with older adults.

It has been a joy to be part of the ministry at Souderton Mennonite Homes. It is to learn spiritual wisdom from older adults and learn what joys and hardships are part of the last stages of life. It is to be given the special privilege of representing the presence of Christ in those holy moments when one’s journey in this life comes to an end and one’s spirit is surrendered to God.

There are many roads that diverge in our lives. I could have chosen other roads too. But I have learned it is not necessary to ask if all the roads were the best. What I have learned to be of the most importance is the faith that God’s guidance, love, and grace will be with me whatever the path. And that has made all the difference.