This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of the BPFNA to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.
We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next several weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph before the end of 2014. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website.
Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!
When my father, Rev. Peter Sanborn, was actively serving as a pastor, his lifelong vocation, he always signed off letters and cards, “Peter, minister and friend.” He died a few years ago, and I was struck by how many people wrote, “We’re so sorry about the death of your father, our minister and friend.” Clearly his words influenced how people understood him and the nature of his ministry. Thus, when I became a pastor myself, I gave careful thought to how I wanted to sign my own communications. “God bless you”? Nah. “In Christ”? Nope. The answer came to me suddenly: “Peace, Jennifer.”
For nearly two years I have been wishing people “Peace” in every communication. At first, I considered limiting this to my congregation or church-related messages, but this seems a false line to draw. Don’t I, in fact, desire peace for everyone I meet? This simple act—the inclusion of a word—means that many, many times each day I extend to people a prayer—an intention—for peace. Our mortgage broker? I wished him peace yesterday. The parents of my kids’ basketball teammates? I wish them peace multiple times each season. School teachers, bus drivers, insurance agents, potential clients? Everyone. There are moments when I feel silly or I fear being misunderstood by people I barely know—but I persist and extend “Peace,” despite my doubts or concerns about appearances. My favorite moments are when people surprise me by returning the offering; it is invariably the person from whom I least expect it, and I receive it fully and with delight.
My decision to serve as a pastor after twenty years of resistance was its own peacemaking effort. As the daughter and granddaughter of ministers, I have lived the best and worst of the church, and for years I clung to the notion that ministry is toxic to families. I understand my first calling to be creating a home of peace and love with my partner and best friend, Matt, and our children, Kyra and Lucas. My growing up home was not always peaceful, and so I treasure the gift and challenge of creating a family home that actively nurtures peace. I am quick to decline any invitation that appears a threat to this call to family. When at last I was ready to pastor a church—when I knew continued resistance would become my life’s greatest regret—I had a profound interaction with God. I heard the words, “Imagine that it is all possible.” The “all” was remaining with my family in a home place that we love while also serving a congregation. I began to “try on” peace with this call to ministry, trusting that God would welcome me into a space that wouldn’t require sacrificing my soul. Three or so months after hearing those words, I was called by a nearby church to serve part-time as their pastor. We remain in our home, and I have been able to continue other work that I also love—in higher education and now in my own business as a life coach for women.
As a pastor, coach, volunteer, friend, family member, and more, I aim to simultaneously live at peace within and extend my gifts in such a way that others can cultivate and live into peace for themselves. There’s grief involved in being a peacemaker, of course, because you must keep your eyes open to all the spaces where peace is still needed. But I am well-acquainted with loss and the gift of perspective it can bring. My work is first and foremost to remind people of what it feels like to know peace, even if only for a moment—and then to grow these moments into longer and more significant stretches until at last we are practicing peace for a lifetime, for all the world.
Jennifer Sanborn is pastor of Enfield American Baptist Church, a life coach for women, and lover of singer-songwriters. She lives joyfully in Connecticut with Matt, Kyra, and Lucas, and lately she's been dreaming and scheming about "tiny house" living.