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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

From Kitchen Counters to Pastoral Visits: The Hidden Curricula

I'll never forget my wife's look of sadness as she looked at the crumb-infested kitchen counter in front of both of us. "You didn't clean this counter?" she asked me, with what I instantly interpreted as disappointment in her voice. In response, a whole cloud of possible retorts floated by me, one by one:

"You never asked me to clean it!"
"Clean is in the eye of the beholder!"
"Your subtle hints about it aren't direct enough for a guy who grew up with direct communicators in his family!"
In reality, I went with my default response in these situations, which is simply: "I'm sorry."
This was just one of many interactions in our first year of marriage when I realized that that our marriage was not just about two people having a conversation, but two vastly different family systems coming together. The two of us were bringing a whole hidden history into each interaction and it was as if our parents were standing in the room with us as we spoke with each other. A 'hidden cirriculum' we experienced growing up communicated values to us, whether we knew we were receiving training or not, and these became the unspoken expectations for both of us about what a spouse is supposed to be and do. And of course, each of us had our own emotional calibrations which assigned a special meaning to our actions, our tone of voice, volume, and so on. For my wife and I, a big part of marriage in our first year was unpacking all of those messages and working to recalibrate our expectations of what marriage was supposed to be.

As CPL students and pastoral interns enter and grow in their contextual sites, there is a similar collision of expectations and assumptions. During what Gadamer calls this "fusion of horizons," both parties will need to be explicit about their expectations and learn to name things they have never named before. Is a pastor supposed to be on-call at all times for everyone? Who is supposed to get a pastoral visit and who is not, and in what circumstances? (How many church members have left a church because the pastor never came and visited their sick father, even though they had not told the pastor that their father was in the hospital in the first place?) What kills a relationship is not the inevitable difference in expectations, but when that difference is not articulated clearly.
So, I invite you to ask yourself: What was in your hidden curriculum growing up? What is a part of your own Operating System that you barely remember learning? Leaders, you will be bringing all of these to your new ministry context and you need to own them. Mentors and supervisors, what implicit messages are you sending to your community and congregation without even saying a word? What is your "hidden curriculum"? Own it and make it clear. Bishop Eaton talks about Lutheran values as being "wallpaper" (i.e., always there, but never clearly described or articulated). Let's claim our values and live them out more clearly with one another.

And for those of you wondering, my wife and I did get through the first year of marriage. She is still the love of my life. I even remember to clean the kitchen counter from time to time! 



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