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Passion for the Climb
Answering the call
By Rev. Abigail A. Henrich ’98
I am in my pajamas. That is, I am in my pajamas at 11 a.m. in my office. My office is in the church. Pastors don’t usually show up to work in their pajamas. I did this morning.
It began at 7 a.m. My 3-year-old was happily eating eggs. The sweet legs of my 8-month-old were tightly wrapped around my waist, my shirt still damp from the morning feeding. He was watching intently as I packed his brother’s lunch for preschool one-handed. My husband was already off to teach an 8 a.m. class. The phone rang. I was sure it was him to say good morning to his boys. Instead, it was Doug.
Abby Henrich ’98 is the mother of three children and married to a theologian. She lives outside of Boston, where she is the pastor of an emergent progressive Christian community, Grace Community Church. (Photo by John Leith)
Sarah has tried again, he told me. He can’t do this anymore. Clinical depression. It’s the third time his wife has tried to end her life, this time in their car backed into a pile of leaves.
My baby fusses on my hip. I talk with Doug as I spoon cereal into his eager mouth and help my eldest into his clothes. I console as I change a diaper, pack the day care bag and school bag, and glance at my calendar.
Doug and I divide and conquer: I will call his kids’ schools and notify Sarah’s therapist; he will call her mother. What else is there to say? It has become all-too routine. I pray with him before we hang up the phone.
There is no time to get dressed. I load up my children in the ice-cold car and head to drop-offs and then to the office.
It’s 11 a.m. I am still in my pajamas and on the phone. I’ve reached the principal.
11 a.m.? I have to be at the hospital at 12:30. Anne is in the final stages of breast cancer, and today the doctors and her daughter are meeting. They’ve asked me to help convince Anne to go home with hospice. It’s been a terribly long struggle, and the family is worn out. I have enough time to run home to throw on clean clothes. But before I leave, I need to make sure I choose the scripture and sermon title for Sunday’s worship. I leaf through my notes from the morning, scribbling an idea down.
Before I rush home to change, before I confront Anne with the reality that she is dying, before I pick up my children, before I scan Facebook for the latest “info” on my church youth, before I search our fridge for something for dinner, before I return to my notes for Sunday worship, before I sit down to a full inbox after my children are asleep, before I visit Sarah in the hospital’s lockdown unit, I stop and wonder:
How did I get here?
After college graduation, I left the beautiful sloping hills of the Chenango Valley for the flat campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, where I received my master’s in divinity. At 25, I was ordained and installed as the solo pastor of a church outside of Boston.
Yet, this still does not explain how a woman with “Rev.” before her name spends her morning on the phone in her pajamas helping a family in crisis. Especially a woman who rarely went to church as a kid and, at age 6, was quick to tell anyone who would listen that the Bible was hooey — just where did Cain’s and Abel’s wives come from anyway?
I didn’t study religion at Colgate because I wanted to be a pastor, at least not in the beginning. I studied religion simply because I was fascinated with the big questions posed by life. I also studied religion because I loved my professors. But then, I started teaching Sunday school at Park United Methodist Church on the Hamilton Village Green. I missed kids and yearned for community with people outside of college. The next thing I knew, that community had entrusted me with their 11- to 16-year-olds every Sunday morning. I fell in love with them.
My senior year, I knew without a doubt I was headed to graduate school. I still had no idea that what I would pursue would be a vocation, not just an education. Yet, I remember distinctly watching my pastor at Park one Sunday, and thinking: I can do that. Over the next few months, it became, I want to do that.
7 p.m. I zip my robe, hiding my shirt dirtied by small, sticky hands. The music is already playing. Briefly, I look over those who are gathered for a midweek Lenten service. I lead worship, reading the scripture passage, reciting the prayers. Simultaneously, I am thinking of Anne, of Sarah, of my sleeping children. I end the service with communion, the words spilling from my mouth.
Come to this table not because you should, but because you may. Come to this table because you are welcome
That’s how I got here. I was invited. And I answered.
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