Fish and Dishes

by Rev. Nick Chambers

I was by myself taking care of a particularly overflowing sink of dishes on what I believe was a Tuesday night. On the mission style armchair behind me was a copy of Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, my seminary reading that I had just put down to go about some housework. One blessing of such ordinary tasks is the space they leave for the mind. Mine began to wander. I was soon to propose to my now wife Katlyn (she was well enough aware), and visions of our future began to appear before me along with a boatload of questions. Katlyn wanted to continue studying and making art, and I wanted to continue in theology. But where and to what end?

Vague visions began to sharpen as I examined my own desires. What was drawing me to study and teach? Suddenly I was able to articulate it very simply: I want to communicate the things of God to the people of God. Then another realization.

That’s a pastor.

I paused, hands dripping into the sink. My lips opened and I actually spoke aloud, “Oh no.” (My actual words at the time may have been more “unclean” as Isaiah puts it.) “I can’t.” I may have gotten my degree from a Christian university and was now in seminary, but I had nothing like an intention to go into ministry. Already in undergrad I had studied philosophy and shifted as much of my coursework as possible away from ministry-focused classes. Now it appeared that I had been running from a truth beyond myself, only to have it catch me washing dishes on a Tuesday night.

I sat down on the kitchen floor and called Katlyn. She came over and listened to my rant, at the end of which I took a deep breath and confessed. I think I’m going to be a pastor. She looked at me and simply said, “I know.” Apparently the seraphs had gotten to her already. The next year, we were sent to serve the church in Pittsburgh where I was ordained. 

Let me be clear. I do not intend to set this part of my story up as some paradigm of calling alongside that of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. The point of all these stories is not to elevate a special chosen few. The point is that God loves and leads those who are unsuspecting and unworthy. In other words, all of us. Calling is not primarily a private destiny. It is universal to everyone, which is one reason why the Greek word for Church literally means “called out.”  Scripture’s stories of commission are contextualized in community. Isaiah's calling is not about Isaiah. It is about Israel. Paul’s is about the Gentiles. Peter’s is about humanity. Whether in a net full of fish or a sink full of dishes, God is calling us all to be community of messengers.

Today I keep my ordination certificate out in the open not as a posture of authority but as a constant reminder that I am unworthy—a lost man of unclean lips, the least of God’s messengers, a sinful man.

But I am called. By the grace of God I am what I am.