Stepping off the elevator, we looked the part of Mormon missionaries. Dark blue jackets, pressed pants, matching ties, close-cropped hair, and Bibles in our hands created that image. We were seminarians, working as chaplains on the same floor of the Deaconess Hospital; our friendship had begun during a summer unit of clinical pastoral education. What started as a joke, that funny sense that we were like Mormon missionaries, became a call to servant friendship and part of a holy vocation. Our friendship grew and developed as we entered into ordained ministry and realized that our vocations were linked.
A Common Vision
We may have looked like Mormon missionaries, but we could not have fit that model because Andrew is an openly gay man. As we worked side by side in the hospital, Andrew’s sexuality was never an issue. Moreover, as the summer progressed we began to recognize that we shared a common vision for the gathered life of faith and that our gifts for ministry surprisingly complementary. It was as if we were two sides of a coin.
We realized we were being drawn together in a very powerful way. It wasn’t long before we began to talk casually about conversation turned into serious planning. We began to sense the makings of a call, and we started to pray about whether we were being called into parish ministry together.
During this period of discernment, Andrew’s sexuality became a curious issue. Churches in our denomination that can afford two pastors tend to be in suburban settings, and it is rare to find a suburban church that feels comfortable having a gay man as pastor. As our sense of call grew, we began to wonder why the Lord would be pairing us up if it were unlikely we would ever serve a church together. Chapin wondered, “Why couldn’t Andrew be an attractive straight woman? That would greatly enhance our marketability!” We both struggled to discern the kind of vocation our Lord was shaping for us.
Over the course of several months, we studied Scripture to gain some guidance. We noticed that early on in his ministry Jesus sent his disciples out two by two because he realized they were going out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Luke 10: 1-20). The early church also sent ministries into the world in this way. Paul and Barnabas were called together. When a rift arose between the two, they split, but then paired up with others: Paul with Timothy and Barnabas with Mark. There is something holy at the root of this ministerial unit. Messengers of the Word need the strength and support only companionship and binding friendship can provide.
But a friendship dedicated to serving the Lord is about more than support. Such a friendship is the most basic gathering where Jesus Christ himself can be present. Essentially, we could go it alone or by pairing together be in the company of three. We experience Christ not in isolation but in community. We are accountable to God and one another not in isolation but in community. We cultivate our prayer lives and are prayed for not in isolation but in community. The holy bond of support and friendship that arises in this form of paired ministry is essential to our health, honesty, and faithfulness as servants in a hostile world.
When we first recognized our joint calling, we expected our Lord to send us into ministry together. We were called, however, to different places: Chapin to Massachusetts and Andrew to Wisconsin. The Lord called us, not to the same congregation, but to a holy friendship that would renew us for service in our individual congregations.
What Can I Hold in Prayer for You?
It is difficult to maintain a friendship across a great geographical distance. This is particularly true of a friendship that seeks to transform and deepen one’s spiritual life. Aristotle, writing about friendship, said that friends must be bound together by common practices. Our friendship lasted beyond seminary and into our vocations because we developed a regular discipline of prayer and seasonal retreats.
Like most good friends, we talk a couple of times a week. Our conversations always include one person asking the other, “What can I hold in prayer for you?” This simple question is more than an idle ritual. It elicits vulnerability and honesty. It expresses concern and commitment to the other person. We ask each other to pray for our families and our congregations. In the most difficult times we can each say, “A friend is praying for me.”
We seek out opportunities to be on retreat together. Throughout the four years since we graduated from seminary, we have managed to spend time in this way about twice a year. Often this meant designing our own retreats as family schedules would allow. One summer Andrew visited Chapin in Boston on his way to Milwaukee. We spent two days studying Scripture, praying together, and sharing meals. This past year we participated in two pastoral consultation retreats held by the Louisville Institute.
Once, during a conference for young clergy held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we separated from the group to walk together. As we made our way to what can be described as a holy hill, a sacred and painful moment occurred. Over the last few months we had been engaged in our second pastoral search processes, and had applied to many of the same churches. On paper we looked nearly identical: young white men characterized by thoughtful and solid theological reflection, a common vision for the future of the church, orthodox Christologies, and progressive social stances. There was only one significant difference—our sexuality. Each of us spoke of our families in our ministerial profiles, which meant congregations knew from the outset that Andrew is gay. Our search results were stikingly dissimilar. Chapin received countless invitations to interview, while Andrew received hardly any.
Throughout our respective processes we had stayed in constant contact. We prayed for each other and shared our hopes and dreams, as well as our anxieties and disappointments. As our searches played out, an unspoken tension began to emerge between us.
On that hill in Santa Fe, after a time of silence, Chapin softly shared that it had grown difficult to talk with Andrew about the opportunities that lay before him, knowing that Andrew was not having a similar experience. After a short pause, Andrew responded even more quietly, “It’s been difficult to hear.” It was a moment of truth, a time of sacred sharing that could only be experienced in a friendship grounded in prayer and faith. It was a bittersweet moment because we were able to open our aching hearts to one another with the realization that we were not going to stop talking about our search processes; we knew that at least on this particular note there was going to be more pain and discomfort to be had—and we were committed to experiencing it together as friends in Christ.
Friends and Brothers
So often, parish ministry is an isolating enterprise. In the midst of an entire community of faith, profound loneliness can be experienced. Even with the support of parishioners, secular friends, spouses, and Jesus Christ himself, we can sense a void. That is why convenanted friendships between clergy are so vital. Denominations often support the mentor/mentored relationship, but we suggest a friendship bound in Christ.
We have been called into a relationship where we share our hearts with one another, gather for times of retreat, spur each other’s spiritual growth, and continually hold each other in prayer, and we find that this relationship is an essential component to our vocational wholeness. We believe to this day that Jesus Christ calls us two by two. Even if we are separated by hundreds of miles, we are still one in Christ. Friends. Brothers, Servants of our living Lord.