By Rev. Daniel Ross-Jones
I wasn’t ordained here in the Northern California Nevada Conference, yet in a very real way I struggle to identify any part of my ministerial vocational practice that isn’t directly shaped by the ethos of this place. When someone asks me where I’m from, I always have a different answer than how I’m introduced by others. Both answers are, of course, correct. And this is a challenging moment for both-and thinking.
I’ve been one of your Associate Conference Ministers for six years, six months, and one day by the time you read this. Many of you know me more fully than that. Before I was on Conference staff, I was Moderator, member of Conference Council, sat on Committee on Ministry—Section A, convenor of the Youth Ministers’ Network, on the Youth & Outdoor Ministries Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Santa Clara Association. I’ve twice been a General Synod delegate, including as resolution committee chairperson. I’m a member of the Polity Teachers’ Network, and have been engaged in numerous task forces and projects in our wider United Church of Christ.
I came to NCNC-UCC for my ordainable call as Associate Minister at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto in 2011. And so yes: I wasn’t ordained in the Northern California Nevada Conference. I’m not from here – I came from Minnesota by way of Wisconsin, Illinois, and New Zealand. And also, there is no part of my ministerial identity that is not from this place. From you.
Ministry transitions are, by definition, moments of change – and my own transitions seem to parallel major changes in our Conference. At Annual Gathering, I shared on the topic of leading in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times. Our Conference staff will look very different on January 1. And yet, our Conference – all of us together – will look substantially similar, and we will continue to journey together in ways that are sometimes surprising.
When I left on sabbatical a little over a year ago, I knew I would spend some time in discernment about my role and professional life. (That’s part of what sabbatical is for.) I didn’t entirely expect that I’d now be writing my final newsletter column to you as I make a career pivot away from full-time professional church work. And yet, as I reflect on the journey, it’s as if everything dropped perfectly into place and made this the most natural next step.
I’ll be working much closer to home, with more predictable and regular hours, allowed to place a priority on time with my husband and extended family. We’ll have weekends and holidays together – something that is difficult to accomplish as a clergyperson, even in judicatory settings. My new position is an overtime-earning position, providing an incentive to my department to equip work-life balance, and directly compensating me for extra hours spent away from those most important to me.
In the United Church of Christ, an Authorized Minister who is not laboring in a ministry position may take a period of time on Leave of Absence – their authorization remains in good standing while they have space to discern how God is using their gifts and abilities and whether ongoing authorization is necessary for their vocational practice. And that’s precisely what I’ll be doing.
I’ve committed through at least next July to neither solicit nor accept requests to visit your churches or preach in your pulpits. I’ve already hung up my robes and stoles in a garment bag in my closet. I won’t be available for conversations, for strategizing, or for dreaming in relationship to the work of the church in these places of Northern California and Nevada. We need time apart right now, to make space for the Spirit to whisper to us and for us to hear her words.
Beginning tomorrow, I will no longer have access to my email address or phone number. My social media will go on hiatus. While I will be physically present in our geography, we will feel distant from one another for the first time in over a decade. And in time, we will uncover the ways we will be with each other anew.
In the New Zealand Prayer Book, the Nightly Prayer includes these words: “What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be… Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.”
I’m grateful for the journey that brought us together, and for the journey we’ve traveled as a local church pastor and Conference minister. I’m grateful for the ways that you have encouraged and challenged me, affirmed and corrected me. And I’m grateful for what comes next.