The Gift of Being Available
How not getting "the job" changed the field of possibilities.
by Julia McCray-Goldmith
As an Episcopal priest (yes, women can be priests in the Episcopal church) who recently celebrated my 60th birthday, I’m noticing how frequently I look upon the choices of this season of life as binary. Retire or keep working. Move into a community for seniors or stay at home. Reach for a new challenge or… resign myself to the status quo? I struggle with binary decisions, and rightfully so, especially when I think that choosing one possibility forecloses the other. Although—note to self—it rarely does. In any given decision there are almost always more choices than I give it credit for. And every choice made in faith opens the door for new possibilities to emerge.
Until recently, I was one of four finalist candidates for the Episcopal Bishop of Nevada. That’s the chief administrative and spiritual officer—so to speak—for the connective community of Episcopal churches in that southwestern state. It is a big job—a stretch goal, you might say— grounded in a prayerful elective process that we in the church understand to be guided by the Spirit of God.
The election was a profound and transformative discernment process for the Diocese of Nevada, and, frankly, for me. All of the finalist candidates were given the opportunity to share their vision for Nevada’s Episcopal churches. The candidates and the voting Episcopalians were a landscape of rich diversity. After months of prayer, many long hot car trips through an unforgiving desert, meet-and-greets in churches small and large, and a lengthy waiting period that left us all a little anxious, I was not elected. Bishop? Not a Bishop? Was that a binary up or down vote, or was something else emerging that I have yet to understand?
It took every reserve of (God given) courage to make myself available for a job that big. Was I the person with the right skills and experience? Could I love the faithful people of Nevada as wholeheartedly as a bishop is called to do? And… did I have the energy and stamina to do this kind of work when the annual calendar of my life had already turned over sixty? I wrestled with the first two questions as any candidate for an elected position needs to. Other people were going to ask me to account for myself, and I had to be ready to respond with conviction and hopefulness.
Nobody at all—except for me—inquired about my age. The average age of an Episcopal bishop, at the time of their election, is 55 years. And the average age of an Episcopalian is 59 years. So I’m well within a standard deviation from the mean. I minister with youth and young adults who keep my skills and my thinking fresh. I have a decent social media game. But did I have the energy to give this dispersed community of Episcopalians the love and long term attention that they needed?
Fortunately, that question was not ultimately mine to answer. The clergy and electing delegates of the Diocese of Nevada answered it for me. And not, I suspect, because of my age. All of the four finalists were well qualified for the job; all of them spoke truthfully and hopefully to the voters. Someone else’s answers better fulfilled the needs and aspirations of the Diocese.
And now I’m not a bishop-elect, but I am a priest in active parish ministry wondering what this vocational stretch has to teach me about the next phase of my life and my next calling to ministry.
At any given time, I might be called to a job with a big management responsibility, like bishop of a diocese. I might be called to a modest ministry, like pastor to a small parish. I might stand in prayerful witness at the beginning or ending of someone’s life; the latter being the moments that most define a clergyperson’s vocation in any job. Ultimately, all of these possibilities are a response to God’s call, just as it was God’s call that resulted in Rev. Elizabeth being elected as Bishop of Nevada. It is not someone else’s binary choice that defines me. What defines me is my choice to be available.
That’s why I stood for election in Nevada, and why I spent long hours traveling scorching back roads listening to the dreams of the faithful. What I discovered on the dusty journey of discernment was a truth about them, but also, a truth about myself, shaped by the religious tradition I love. My faith is one grounded in the fruitfulness of Abraham and Sarah, the liberating Exodus story, and the Gospel mandate to “fear not”. The tradition reminds me that I don’t need to doubt my age, or my stamina, or the possibility of failure or shame. All I have to do is offer myself to do God’s work, wholeheartedly, and trust the outcome.
That’s my one role in this ancient sacred story, and my one job in this servant vocation. It’s the same job for all of us who seek to live lives of meaning and integrity. Our own availability changes the field of possibilities for everyone else. That’s why I’ll never stop making myself available for the needs that present themselves, even as I guard the privilege of saying (or hearing) “no” to what isn’t the right calling. Instead, I’ll continue to do what we all can do at every stage of life: offer ourselves as a gift, trusting that wisdom goes before us and possibility follows in our wake.
Julia McCray-Goldsmith is the Priest in Charge of the multilingual Trinity Cathedral in San Jose, California. A former missionary, non-profit fundraiser, and faithful student of Jesuit spirituality, she blogs at www.liftupyourhearts.net. Julia has been married to John for 35 years and is the grateful parent of Nicaraguan-born (and now young adult) sons Amos and Aaron.
Talk to God from Burning Man 2018