We All Have a Part in Ministry
By Tom Smith, Parish Ministry Associate
Hello, my name is Tom Smith and I am a PMA from Rejoice Lutheran in Gering, NE.
I began my PMA studies in 2001 after having been Lutheran for only three years, having joined Rejoice in 1999. I was raised in the Christian church Disciples of Christ (DOC) as my father was an ordained minister in that denomination. He retired in 1984, the church he was Pastor of in Mitchell, NE was DOC and UCC (United Church of Christ). As that Church was heading out the denomination door moving towards being non denominational, I headed out the door and ended up becoming a Lutheran, not by birth but by choice. My wife and I visited and fell in love with Rejoice Lutheran in Gering and I felt at home in a style of worship completely opposite from the non liturgical worship of the DOC and I have never looked back. I was 46 years old at the time.
I had felt called to do ministry since my early thirties and had been studying a lot on my own. I had my father and his library to aid in that and yet I wanted to learn more. Terry Templeton was the pastor at Rejoice then and he suggested the Parish Ministry Associate (PMA) program might be a good thing for me. Inside I really felt that I was meant to be a minister but with family concerns and perhaps finances, dropping one career path and going off to seminary did not seem like a viable path for me. So in 2001 I joined the program with four others in the Panhandle area with my main goal being more education as I did not think I would likely do much in the way of serving a church. I was very pleased with the classes and the education and the fellowship in the PMA program. I was certified in 2006 and became active in the Panhandle cluster including being the lay president for a time. I became, and I still am a member of the steering committee at Lakota Lutheran in Scottsbluff. I was enjoying being an assisting minister and began doing some pulpit supply too. Then in 2008 a PMA friend of mine had a stroke. PMA Alice Shriver was doing the ministerial work at a UCC Church in Bayard, NE. I was already familiar with that particular congregation and since I had DOC and UCC background I was asked to come and fill in for her. Unfortunately she had to retire because of her stroke, they asked me to stay, and I did; I just started my twelfth year there in January. By doing so I did have to split myself a bit doing both UCC and ELCA. But the fact remains that I am Lutheran and I have done as many things as I can, such as Cluster activities, PMA convocations, Theological Conferences, and classes.
Last year I was asked to serve my own home church of Rejoice and I have been very blessed in being able to do so. Rejoice is three-fourths of a mile from my house, so I do a service there first and then make the twenty-five minute drive to Bayard and do the service there. A pretty easy thing to do when compared to other ordained ministers and PMAs that do multiple churches with even more miles to travel than that. It feels good to be back home again as part of Rejoice as the assigned PMA there.
I cannot say enough about how good the PMA program is. It has given many people like me who have felt called to be ministers, but for a variety of reasons were not able to become fully equipped ordained ministers, a way of serving God and the Church. I feel that PMAs are a blessing to the Synod and that now perhaps more than ever there is a need for lay ministry in the form of PMAs. As Lutheran Christians we all have a part, a roll in doing service and ministry. I am very thankful for being able to be part of that.