Alisha Riepma shares how a home visit to an elderly member of her congregation helped confirm her call to pastoral ministry. This story of personal calling is part of a series on purposeful living.
T he door is difficult to open, and a bell is attached to the top of it. When I finally push the door from its lodged frame, the bell fanatically resounds in the entry room I was standing in and through (I believe) the whole house as well. It is a loud process that begins a first-time visit to a woman from my congregation who is not able to leave her home and physically join my congregation at St. John’s Reformed Church, which is nestled in the Hudson Valley.
This woman greets me with a laugh at the now-open door. She’s 91 and has a hard time hearing me at the start of our visit. She is small, both in height and form. We sit down together at her table in the kitchen, and we fumble at getting acquainted with one another. I talk about people from the church and thankfully, I’m wearing a collar, so that’s a helpful symbol for her to remember that I’m her new pastor. We start to celebrate communion together. She adds her commentary through the liturgy. She comments that the wafers are not very good. I agree with her. It’s honest.
After our time in the kitchen, she gets up and takes me around the house, pointing out her beloved people in picture frames on her walls and magnetically stuck to her refrigerator. Tears seem to well up in her eyes easily; her bright chuckles that accompany her stories and quips also come easily. She instructs me to pick up specific books and peer through them. There are two Bibles that she points out and a hymnal, one that we use in church, that looks worn and loved. I notice how her bed is located on the main floor with the accouterments that come with one who is nearing the end of life.
After an hour or so, we end our tour and settle back in our initial chairs in the kitchen. Goodbyes begin, and she confesses that she doesn’t know what to call me. She also confesses she was intrigued that the church hired a female minister—and a young one! But, with tears again forming, she looks me straight in the eyes and tells me that she’s so glad they did. And then, she bids adieu, saying, “Goodbye, my lovely lady priest!”
There is something holy that happens when God’s Spirit meets us in the middle of the mundane moments of life.
I feel called to the people of God—to talk and share deeply with them, to bring the sacrament of these not-so-tasty wafers and juice to people in my community, to share in mundane-yet-holy moments. The Spirit moves in unexpected ways, and I’m grateful for God’s leading and guiding. I am most alive, connected, and whole when I am doing the things that connect me to my core. That core is the essence or the spark of who I am. I think there are many different things that I am called to; one of them, for this particular season in life, is pastoral ministry.
My call has shifted, and I am sure that it will grow and continue to shift. I am not sure I will ever know exactly what God is calling me to. (That may not be the most encouraging statement to those who are currently seeking God’s call.) What seems to make the most sense for me is to be as close as I can to that which draws me to the Divine. Right now, I believe that my gifts and abilities intersect most acutely within the work of the church, serving as a minister of Word and sacrament.
In this pandemic season, it has been hard to be a solo minister. I find nourishment in rest and retreat. I am encouraged through other clergy friends who are holding similar burdens and sharing space to air it all out. I fill my home with the voices of Krista Tippet, Glennon Doyle, and Kate Bowler (and whoever they are interviewing). They’re my bluetooth houseguests, and they give language for some of the hard experiences we’ve all gone through these past two years.
In the last two years, I have also relied on a spiritual director and a coach to help me hone in and focus on what matters to me, how God is revealing Godself to me in this season of my life, and how that implicates my work and life trajectory. Call is a funny thing to think about and a thing we sometimes put a lot of weight around. I would like to think that my call—and all of our calls—are fluid and mysterious. God directs and guides, and we’re the beloved ones who step in faith, one step at a time, doing the best we can in whatever season life finds us in.
Are you living your purpose?
Rev. Alisha Riepma
Rev. Alisha Riepma is the pastor at St. John's Reformed Church in Red Hook, New York. She is passionate about youth, equity, and justice, looking to the church to lead the way in a revolutionary way of being in the world today. She is a member of the RCA Women’s Transformation and Leadership Guiding Coalition.