God’s Call– Anne Vining

gods-call-anne-vining

Anne Vining
Senior pastor, First Covenant Church of St. Paul, Minnesota
Ordained: 1994

My Journey

I liken myself to the reticent prophet Jonah when it comes to embracing my sense of call. If God had made it clear to me as a young woman in my mid-twenties that the journey ahead would lead to being ordained as a pastor and devoting my life to serving in the church, I surely would have run the other direction.

I was a teenager when Adele Cole preached at my home church, Bethany Covenant Church in Richfield, Minnesota. Her example had an impact on my own sense of call. In my late teens and in the years following, I faithfully read Mary Miller’s column in the back of the Covenant Companion each month. Years later I was privileged to serve on the Covenant Retirement Communities board with Mary and come to know her as a friend. I am very grateful to the many women pastors in our denomination who sacrificially faced challenges and roadblocks that made it possible for me (and so many women since) to follow the path they created.

In college I was deeply impacted by Rebecca Manley Pippert’s book, Out of the Saltshaker, into the World. While my vocational goals were unclear, I had a high commitment to being salt and light in the world. I felt God could use me best in challenging some of the false assumptions of what that meant.

I’ve come to learn that God has a sense of humor. As director of youth ministry at Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis, I quickly I learned that I needed more biblical studies, which led to a couple of classes at Bethel Seminary. This opened the door to pursue full-time studies at North Park Theological Seminary.

It was at North Park where my heart was first broken by the complicated and overwhelming needs of our urban communities. I wondered what God would do with this passion when my first call out of seminary was to serve in a suburban context at Arvada Covenant in Colorado as pastor to single adults.

I pursued the position because it was part-time and I wanted to balance ministry with being a mom of an infant. Hardly spiritual! God had much to teach me about ministering to an often alienated population within the life of the church. I pursued ordination during this time because it was the next step laid out for me. It has been in the years following my ordination that I’ve come to grasp the enormity of this decision, the weight of this holy responsibility.

After nearly four years at Arvada, I was called to serve as associate pastor and then co-pastor at Excelsior (Minnesota) Covenant Church, allowing me to move closer to family. In the seven years there, I learned and grew in a variety of areas in pastoral ministry. When my family went through significant health crises, individuals within the Excelsior Covenant community ministered and cared for us in ways I will never forget and will always be grateful.

But there always was this nagging question that would surface amidst the busyness of ministry and parenting two young children: “What about that fledgling call I thought I’d heard to serve in an urban context?” When the chair of the search committee at First Covenant Church of Saint Paul contacted me about interviewing for the position of senior pastor, my initial response was to laugh. I wasn’t senior pastor material. I hadn’t updated my pastor’s profile in more than ten years so there was little on paper that reflected my pastoral credibility. My passion for urban ministry was more in theory than it was in actual experience.

Again, I witnessed God’s sense of humor as I accepted the call to First Covenant where I have served for the past fourteen years. It continues to be a steep learning curve for me amidst successes and failures serving as pastor in a historic 142-year old church seeking to intentionally minister in an increasingly intercultural, intergenerational, and economically diverse community.

Challenges

In the past decade my challenges have had less to do with my gender and more to do with my race. I’ve had to continually confront my own blind spots regarding my sense of white privilege and assumptions I unknowingly make based on my middle/upper-middle-class background. Even though I’ve lived and served in an economically and racially diverse community for the past fourteen years, I find that being a white female pastor can limit my credibility.

There have been gender-related challenges too. I’m still learning to bridle my tongue, to think before speaking, and to be proactive instead of reactive. And while I’ve still got a ways to go in the realm of consistent healthy communication, I’ve found that at times, when I do speak passionately about a situation or cause, my speech has been described as “aggressive.” I rarely spend time playing the gender card, but I’m very aware that if a man communicated the same message, they’d be seen as passionate and a strong leader. In recent years, when I hear strong women described as “aggressive,” I suggest “assertive” as a more accurate and healthier description.

Joys

Overall, I have been so privileged to step into peoples’ lives in the most joyous of occasions (birth, dedications, baptisms, confirmation, graduation, weddings, and countless other celebrations) as well as the most devastating (death, divorce, addiction, disease) and to embody God’s unfailing love and hope. I’ve witnessed children, youth, and adults go from walking in darkness into the light of Jesus Christ. I’ve witnessed young people catch a glimpse of who God has uniquely created them to be. I’ve been a part of helping individuals and families break free from the gripping cycle of poverty and experience freedom in Christ not only spiritually but emotionally and physically. It’s usually three steps forward and two back, but I’ve seen the difference it makes when individuals within a church are committed to the long-haul journey of authentic discipleship.

I’ve been privileged to serve alongside my husband, Gordy, who stepped into this unpredictable and messy life ten years ago. He’s my chauffeur on late-night calls to the hospital and my confidante when the complexities of my call are overwhelming. Together we have opened our home to various people who needed a place to stay—whether it’s for a month or a year. There’s no greater joy than watching my two young adult children catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom and their place in it.

First live concert:

I recall my dad announcing that he’d gotten tickets to Johnny Mathis. This was a big deal to my parents, but I’d never heard of him. We sat in the very top row of Orchestra Hall. I could barely see the middle-aged man performing. And while I can’t say his style of music was exactly my preferred genre of music, I recall his singing “Moon River” and it sounding almost effortless. It was a great concert!

Probably the most memorable concert I attended was in college when I went to see a new young female artist, Amy Grant, in a small theater in Minneapolis. She was about my age and I felt an instant affinity with her. I’m still a fan thirty-five years later—of her and her husband, Vince Gill. I’m not ashamed to admit I love country music!

If I had to be in a talent show, I would perform:

Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” I used to embarrass my kids by singing this with some pretty powerful hand motions while driving (carefully, of course!).

 

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