Sticking Around for a While: An Update from Deonna Part I
As many of you may remember, I told the parish last year to expect that I would most likely depart after the new rector was in place. As early as February 2022, I was on the job market in multiple search processes for a variety of different jobs, both ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical. In the end, I had multiple job offers and I turned them all down. And, honestly, I was surprised that I did. All could have been excellent next steps for me. What was going on?
As it turns out, I realized that I am quite happy here at St. John’s and was not ready to uproot my life and move again unless there was a clearly compelling reason to do so. I have lived in Alabama for nearly 8 years now and it is the longest I have ever lived in any one place in my entire life. I am starting to really appreciate the benefits of being embedded in a community where I have a place, where I can meaningfully contribute, and where I feel loved and respected.
While I was undertaking job interviews, and fully anticipating that I would be departing within a few months after his arrival, Duncan was advertising for an associate rector who would focus on youth and young adult ministries. He advertised not only in our diocesan communications, but also with the Episcopal News Service and other national Episcopal Church digital and print sources. I think he had two or maybe three applicants (?), none of whom were even remotely compelling candidates. So, after spending over a year in very time-consuming and exhausting job searches, and not feeling a clear call to any of them, combined with lack of response to Duncan’s advertisement for an associate, we both agreed that having me stick around for a while would be a good outcome for both me and for St. John’s.
As part of my discernment process this past year, I did some extensive aptitude testing and career counseling with a private firm. This proved to be profoundly helpful, not only in helping me understand my past career trajectory, e.g. why I have had so many different and varied career paths (military, academic, church), but also the kinds of things that are best suited for me and what I am looking for going forward, especially now that I have crossed clearly over into mid-life. One of the outcomes of that aptitude testing was that it brought forward again both my interest in and aptitude for counseling. I have thought about being a counselor for nearly 30 years. My undergraduate degree is in Behavioral Science and one of the reasons why I was initially attracted to ordained ministry was the opportunity to do pastoral counseling with people.
However, as I have been full time in the parish now for two years in various roles, I find that pastoral counseling does not feature much in my day-to-day work. When people do come to see me, I have often felt that their concerns could better be addressed by a licensed mental health provider. I usually end up referring people to counselors, rather than being the counselor myself. Upon reflection, I realized that I wanted to include more one-on-one direct work with people. In other words, rather than taking a “bigger job” or getting another prestigious line on my CV, I realized I wanted this next chapter in my life to focus on integrating theology, pastoral care, and mental health into my ministry. To do this, I needed more education and training in mental health counseling.
As a result, I have decided to embark on pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Troy University. (Yes, I know, I need another degree like a need a hole in the head!) I took some exploratory classes in the summer, just to make sure this is what I wanted to do. It was fun (for me!) to be back in school again, and I really enjoyed the classes. I was officially admitted into the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in July. Fall classes start next Monday, August 14th! I will be taking courses in the evening while I continue to work full-time at St John’s.
Next week, I’ll write more about how I hope to integrate my clinical mental health counseling work into my ministry here at St. John’s. Stay tuned!