I wanted to introduce myself to you. By Sunday, I am Rev. Scott Marrese-Wheeler, a mild-mannered minister at Oakland-Cambridge Presbyterian Church, but by week day, I transform myself into Super Sub - MDubs, in the McFarland School District! With a single phone call, I asked to teach math to 6th graders, lead a discussion on a classic piece of art to 7th & 8th graders, facilitate a discussion on college literature to seniors, lecture on the political process in the United States to high schoolers, oversee the eating habits of 650 high school students, and face my kryptonite fear by teaching shop class!
It is my role as an educator working as a Substitute Teacher at McFarland Middle & High School that I was invited to talk to you. In her April 2 - Christian Century blog - Celeste Kennel-Shank - “Does having two jobs make you bi-vocational?” Some my say my work is simply a second job, meant to off-set the income of being a part-time minister. Maybe when I started subbing it was simply for that reason. But after 5 years, it no longer is simply a job to me, it is a calling by God to serve in a parish beyond the walls.
Our focus as a Presbytery was to transform ourselves into a “missional” ministry. I am still not exactly sure what that fully means or actually looks like. Maybe that is part of what it means to live into this new way of being the church, it is an emerging, unknown, and yet to be fully defined image of Church.
What I do know is that we are invited to live our faith out in a more “missional” way, engaging the world where we live our daily lives and not simply to stay inside the walls of a church building. To use the oft quoted quote of Fredrick Buechner - “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
For me, and as my colleagues who work in public education would attest, the world’s deep hunger is sadly found, daily, in the public classroom. Poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental health issues, special needs, families in crisis, immigration and sexuality issues, grief, stress, anxiety, fear, and the list goes on, all take a seat at the start of class and remain a constant presence through the school day and year. This is not limited to our students but also in the lives of the staff. Into this mix, educators must teach.
I feel God has called me to the ministry of being a substitute teacher. Being the presence of Christ without preaching Christ is key to my ministry. Being present to the person before me, whether they are student or staff, receiving them as if they were the Christ is what I believe is my calling. Of course, this is what we are all invited to do whatever our work, wherever we work. A second job, maybe? A “missional” ministry? Yes, and more. It is the place we are called, out there and in here, because everywhere we find ourselves in life is where we discover the Kingdom of God among us.
In closing, I want to share a poem with you, as I have shared it with the staff at McFarland. It is a poem by Brian Doyle that I found in the Christian Century magazine. Brian Doyle is the Editor of Portland Magazine on the campus of Portland University. For me, this poem speaks to my dual calling in the church and in the school:
The Window Through Which to Whisper
Talked to six high school students this morning,
Two young men and four young women, for 20
Minutes each. Ostensibly the discussion was all
About college admission essays, but one thing I
Have learned in life is to be quiet and listen and
Out will pour real honest naked hard holy grace,
And there it was, child after lanky child. So very
Many masks worn as armor. So many polite bits
Of college admissions essays that skated over the
Stories they were so desperate to tell they would
Even tell me—given the chance, the shy window
Through which to whisper. When we were done
I stood up rattled and blessed. Such terrible gifts
And such generosity in the giving. I remembered
Confession, in the old days, when the old shutter
Made of oak or pine would shiver open suddenly
And a voice, often so calm and gentle, would say
Say what you most want to say, and have not said.