by Whitney Rice
Associate Rector, St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Zionsville, Indiana
I had no idea how inwardly focused my ministry was until I had the opportunity to participate in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. There is very clear dividing line in my ministry: pre-Wabash versus post-Wabash. And before, I didn’t realize how small of a ministry world I was occupying. I saw very little outside my own congregation and denomination.
I was listening to Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land and he tells a story that struck me deeply as I reflect on the change in my ministry outlook. He speaks of walking across a moor with a friend who had four dogs. As they walked, three of the dogs would run out across the moor, leaping over creeks and chasing rabbits and joyfully exploring their environment.
But one of the dogs would only run in a small circle just in front of his owner. No matter now many miles they walked or how far afield the other dogs went, this dog would only run in a tight circle very close to them.
Martin Laird asked him why, and he replied, “This dog was kept for his entire life prior to coming to me in a very small cage. His body has left the cage, but his mind still carries it with him. For him, the world outside the cage does not exist, and so no matter how big and beautiful the moor, he will never run out across it. I bring him here so he can breathe the fresh air, but he’s still running circles in his cage.”
One of the richest and most lasting benefits of the WPLP for me has been calling me beyond the borders I never knew I had. And it strikes me that part of what we’re trained to do as Wabash pastors is to see false barriers and imaginary borders. Some of those borders are literal, like the U.S.-Mexico border wall that my cohort visited on our study trip to Tijuana. Some of those boundaries are symbolic and invisible but no less real, like the divisions we heard about in the churches and communities of South Africa on our visit there.
As pastors we long to be effective breaking down divisions and healing the pain that separates us from each other. What we sometimes fail to realize is how many self-imposed cages we’re carrying around ourselves. I will be forever grateful to the WPLP for teaching me always to ask what categories and assumptions I’m placing around any problem, opportunity, or relationship, and then to ask whether the Holy Spirit might have something new and bold to say there.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:14, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” I knew before the WPLP that there often seems to be a dividing wall between how things are and what God dreams of for us. What I know now is how often that wall is in my own heart, and how ready my fellow ministers are, lay and clergy alike, to help me break it down.