From Iowa to Pennsylvania: Ministering along Interstate 80

Firman Gingerich, Blooming Glen

firman.jpgIn my late 20’s our pastor at Kalona Mennonite Church, Howard Keim, invited me to participle in a leadership apprentice relationship with him. Over several years, I would meet with him periodically to talk about books on ministry and leadership that we were reading. During this time, he invited me to participate in a wide range of congregational leadership experiences, such as writing Bible study guides, leading small groups, and teaching the youth baptism class. After some time he asked me if I would consider preaching on a Sunday morning.

I do not think he realized at the time how much this invitation to preach and engage in leadership exploration was confirming my internal journey. These leadership apprentice experiences were helping me respond to an inner call to some form of ministry that I had experienced as a senior in high school in the late 1960s. I credit a circle of young, dynamic high school teachers at Iowa Mennonite High School for helping me stay engaged with the church in this turbulent time. This early sense of call was very private and I shared it with no one until much later.

After college I spent eight years as an elementary school teacher in Montana and Iowa. Gratefully, Susan, my wife supported me in testing my sense of call to ministry for about five years. After several years, Kalona Mennonite Church sent us off to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary with a solid blessing and a great deal of financial support to study and prepare for pastoral ministry.

In retrospect, I needed this sense of a public call to anchor me. I would not have had the courage to begin a journey of preparing for pastoral ministry without the support and blessing of our home church. I live with much awareness of how valuable a congregation is in influencing and shaping one’s call to ministry.

Now, 26 years later, Susan, and I find ourselves in Franconia Mennonite Conference; me as a Pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church and Susan on the development staff at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School. In the last few months I have been asked often if Southeastern Pennsylvania was on my radar as a potential place to pastor. My first and easy answer is no. My pastoral ministry path has been along Interstate 80 in Iowa and Indiana; I guess I didn’t understand that Interstate 80 extended into the Keystone state. I was comfortable with the Midwest.

I think it is how I am wired to do ministry. In my own discernment with Susan and personal friends, I had decided to seek a new pastoral assignment beginning in late summer of 2007. In my pastoral ministry journey, I have grown to value and am enriched by patterns of multiple staff ministry. I made a decision that I wanted to continue in ministry in a multiple staff setting. This was an important factor for consideration when I was invited to begin exploratory conversations with folks at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. It is no secret that ministry in a multiple staff team takes hard work and discernment from all. However, the mutual synergy and common vision that I have experienced from working with collaborative teams has transformed me tremendously.

I am eager to pay attention to ways God will continue to lead me, our pastoral team, and the lay leadership of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church to respond to God’s Spirit with hope and courage as we anchor our life together in Christ.