A limitless God called me to Nebraska
October 14, 2018 by Eddie Mariel
By Rev. Eddie Mariel, Pastor
First Presbyterian Church, Lexington, Nebraska
In our own sin, I have observed a tendency of all persons, parishioners and clergy alike, to put limits on God that coincide with our own limitations. Not only limitations that we place upon ourselves, but limitations that we place upon others as well.
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and knew church to be what my home church was. On a small area of land, in a busy suburb, at an intersection that should have had a stoplight, with not enough parking. This church was a multi-pastoral and multi-staff church.
While it was predominantly white, another discussion for another time, it was fairly diverse in other ways especially economically and politically. As that was what I knew church to be, and was unintentionally limiting God to be, for my second job I took a Youth Director position at another church at almost the exact same longitudinal line (less than a degree of difference!) clear across the country in Chesapeake, Virginia.
The longitude was not the only striking similarity. It, too, was an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, mostly white, multi-pastor, multi-staff church that was economically and politically diverse. When I returned to the Greater Los Angeles Area to pursue my Masters of Divinity degree, I found myself serving my third church that, you guessed it, looked much the same as the previous two despite their geographical differences.
The coasts, places of greater diversity, had become safe to my family and me. For further context as regards safety, my youngest daughter is adopted from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She is a beautiful, rich, dark shade of brown. Thus, as I was finishing my M. Div. in diverse, safe Los Angeles and looking for my first call all throughout the calendar year of 2017, rural congregations in the South and Midwest, per our own admittedly limited scope, were not even on the list of potential sites for ministry for my wife and me.
Based on our own limited experiences, based on the limitations that we put on rural Midwesterners because of what we had seen and heard the news telling us about them as a whole instead of as individual people with names and stories of their own, we limited the scope of our search. And then, in short, my Executive Presbyter in my Presbytery of Care told me not to put limits on what God can do.
And so, we find ourselves in a small congregation, in a rural community, in mid-Nebraska. We have found love, acceptance, accountability, compassion and grace. We have found people who stare at us like we’re aliens when we talk about things like gluten free or dairy free or vegetarian (there are more beef cattle in the state of Nebraska than there are people) and yet, work to find recipes and solutions so that we might be included in community gatherings and functions.
We found people who work harder and longer than any other people I have found serving in the aforementioned churches. We found people who, by their very act of daily living in communion and connection with their local environment, have a far more comprehensive grasp of a practical theology of creation than any thesis a doctoral candidate might write. This community of faith that we, my family and I, are called to serve looks nothing like any of the previous three (aside from the whiteness, again another discussion for another time) we have served. And that’s OK.
What I have learned about pastoring in a rural area is that God is just as present here as God is present everywhere else; because God is not limited. God is faithful first and has not forsaken this community of faith because that’s who God is. God is faithful and steadfast even when we might feel we cannot be or feel that maybe God is not. God overcomes, and is not subject to, our whims and limitations.
I’d be lying if I said it was easy. There are times when, I’d go so far as to say, it has been gut wrenching for me and my family. But, God never promised easy. Nor did God promise safe. (Remember The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe?) God promised steadfast presence.
May we reach beyond our own limitations so as to have eyes to see, ears to hear, minds to comprehend and hearts to know God better.
Eddie Mariel was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament on July 22, 2018. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies from Westmont College in 2002 and a Master’s of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2017. Eddie had previously served three different PC(USA) churches in Youth and Children’s Ministry over the course of 15 years before receiving his first call to serve as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lexington, NE. Eddie and his wife Sarah have been married for 14 years and have 3 children; Noah (13), Emma (11) and Layla (9).
Editor’s note: We are continuing a series of blog posts that examine the need for pastors in rural settings. During October and November, we’re publishing blog posts from the Central Nebraska Presbytery, hearing the perspectives of pastors, churches that are searching and Presbytery leadership. Our thanks to Rev. Eddie Mariel for writing this piece about his call to Lexington, Nebraska.