The Fear Factor
by Susan Sytsma Bratt
Anna Hunsberger Bogertman did not anticipate becoming a pastor when she transferred to Calvin College at the start of her third year. Coming to Calvin from James Madison University, she anticipated digging into her major as a social worker from a Christian perspective. Yet, within a few months of setting foot on campus, she found herself examining her vocation from a different perspective.
Anna came to Calvin with a passion for justice and was curious about international missions. Monique Verhoef, a Residence Hall Director suggested Anna look into the newly unveiled Jubilee Fellows Program. In its first year, the program was going to offer some of its internships at overseas churches. Anna knew she was interested in people and exploring justice in a cross cultural experience, but was uncertain about ministry. Yet, she took a risk and applied for the program, finding herself in the first cohort of Jubilee Fellows.
Anna joined her cohort for a semester of reading and reflection about ministry. The semester was both invigorating and challenging. Bonding with the other Fellows “was energizing to talk about something we were all passionate about. It was good to have a community in which to discern call. By the end we could all affirm gifts.” At the end of the semester, the group prepared to disperse for their summer ministry internships. Anna did not find herself traveling to an international locale as anticipated. Instead, she went west to New Life Community Church in Artesia, California.
Although Artesia was not a foreign country, it was cross cultural engagement. “It wasn’t exactly what I expected when I applied.” Anna, the social work major who was uncertain about ministry found herself spending an entire summer learning the ropes of parish ministry. The world of ministry was not foreign to Anna, whose father was a minister in her early childhood and is currently a seminary professor. Working at New Life Community Church was different from any of her previous experiences. Here, Anna was not the pastor’s kid, but rather an intern and colleague on staff. Rev. Keith Tanis took time to ask good questions, and let the interns see all sides of ministry from council meetings to sermon planning, pastoral visits to youth group, and to interactions in his own family. He also took time to show them that a pastor is a person. Anna recounts, “I felt like I had a pretty good understanding about what his life and ministry was like.” A new world was opening up for Anna.
On-site theological reflection provided a framework for the summer. As the weeks progressed, Rev. Tanis kept noting Anna’s gifts. Her passion for people translated well into pastoral care; her concern for justice into teaching; and her intellectual abilities for sermon preparation and leadership were all excellent gifts for parish ministry. Planning and crafting talks for the youth retreat near the end of the summer marked a turning point for Anna. It was in that moment that Anna realized she had gifts prompting her to “reflect on my own sense of calling and where God was leading.”
Despite her summer experience, Anna still struggled with fear of ministry. Reading books about ministry perpetuated the fear. “I realized being a minister is heavy. We read about the weight of responsibility. Ministers are public figures, subject to everyone’s critique and can fall into the trap of feeling like they hold up the church.” In spite of Anna’s fears about a call to parish ministry, she felt confident about seminary as a next step after graduation from Calvin.
As her senior year at Calvin progressed, Anna prepared for the next steps after graduation. Engaged to be married the following summer, Anna had another person to consider in her decision. She applied to Austin Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Western Theological Seminary, and chose to attend Western Theological Seminary because of its holistic emphasis on community and internships as well as proximity to family. The joint Master’s of Divinity and Master’s of Social Work program also provided a great opportunity to further develop her gifts.
Entering Western Theological Seminary, Anna enrolled in the dual degree program. She was still uncertain about whether to pursue ministry or social work. After her first year, she did a social work internship for a summer at the Good Samaritan Ministries in Holland, MI where she served as a volunteer coordinator. Coordinating volunteers required her to call local pastors. With each phone call Anna kept thinking, “I want to be the pastor on the other side of the phone.” She realized, “my passion is so much for the Church. Yes, still for social justice, but I want to see the Church live into that calling.”
Anna’s congregational internship at Second Reformed Church in America (RCA) of Zeeland Michigan confirmed her calling to ministry. Over the course of her first and second year in seminary she was able to use her gifts in pastoral care and leadership and grew in confidence about her preaching and teaching abilities. Anna began to see her calling for ministry and realized, “I got to the end of seminary and felt called to be in the Church right now. I thought a pastor had to have it all together, but I realize now it’s God’s calling, and we need to get out of the way.”
Getting out of the way meant facing her fears and taking a risk to live into her calling as a pastor. Six months later, Anna has traded the job of intern for Associate Pastor for Faith and Witness at Second RCA in Zeeland. Her responsibilities include pastoral care for members under forty, ministry to youth and young adults, and regular leadership in worship and preaching. Anna is excited about connecting the congregation’s passion for social justice with the theological and spiritual motivation for such engagement. It seems ministry is a good fit, wedding her passion for justice with gifts for care, teaching, and preaching. Anna’s fear of parish ministry is gone now, leaving room for her energy, imagination, intelligence, and a great love for the Church to infuse her ministry.