When I think of the path taken, the one that called me to the big desk in a nice church office in the oldest neighborhood of Spokane, I am struck by how many decisions came in the form of “I have to do this now, I have no other choice.”
Of course, I know that there are always choices but when you’re 22 years old, just graduated from college and married with children, those choices don’t appear so obvious. I knew that I had been “called” to ministry as early as age 17. I had several conversations with pastors and mentors and had decided to go to seminary after college. You know the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I came to believe I wasn’t ready for seminary and I decided in 1982 that, rather than get more schooling, it was time to get a job.
The financial services industry was not a “sacred calling.” It was a job in which I learned many things that eventually helped me in discerning my sacred calling. I learned how to work with people of all personality types, I learned patience and humility, and I became a workaholic. Mostly I learned about money, and the strange hold it has on our society and the world. At first I melded right into the idea of hard work, and earnings, and savings, and investing, and all the trappings of financial “peace.” After a serious health issue forced me to re-evaluate my life, I came to understand the darker side of the financial world, and probably should have left the business, but I pressed on mostly out of a desire not to “be a quitter.” The machinations of management kept me in the job for 22 years.
For the last three of those years I attended seminary and was appointed as a part time pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran church. For three years I kept my financial services business going (half-heartedly), did all the duties of pastor and traveled to Berkeley, Calif. for seminary classes. I graduated in 2004. My “real” sacred calling was offered and accepted when I was ordained Jan. 22, 2005. All along the 22-year path were opportunities to make changes but the “having no choice but to go on” syndrome had always prevailed. There were bills to pay, children to raise and a sense of duty to my clients and company. I look at my 22-year-long job as a tempering fire I endured to reach my sacred calling as a servant who is called pastor.
When asked by former financial services colleagues how the new “job” was going, I would say “The hours are longer, the stories are sadder and the problems are dramatic, but at least I get paid less!” My sacred calling is much work in the form of praying, gathering, building and doing my best to encourage folks to engage in their own sacred calling. I have made more mistakes and blunders than I can keep track of and I will surely make more.
A sacred calling does not entitle us to smooth sailing and a trouble free occupation. More frequently it involves rough waters and challenges that make us cry. It is a vocation — vocation: from the Latin uoco to call in order to attract attention, to summon, to invite, to challenge, to call out or demand, to designate as or call by name. All these definitions from my Oxford Latin dictionary melded together are the essence of where I find myself now as pastor of All Saints Lutheran in Spokane. It is an invitation to work and hardship, pain and suffering with my fellow humans. It is also a summons to joy, and life, and most of all love. It is a vocation where I am overwhelmed with opportunities to do justice, and show kindness, and walk humbly with God.
The Rev. Alan B. Eschenbacher serves as pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church.