Ronald Gehrmann

1985 Starr King Graduate

When I was graduating high school in Germany, where I was born and spent part of my childhood and youth, I had a number of competing interests and was looking into pursuing a career in ecology, or architecture, or perhaps commercial art. At the time, studying theology was the last thing on my mind. But because my father was a minister, and his father was a minister, going into the ministry was somewhat pre-ordained, and it did turn out to be a fulfilling path for me for some time.

After five years of divinity school, one year as an intern minister and three years serving this congregation, I felt the urge to try something different. I'd always been intrigued by the multitude of possibilities for earning a living. But when I left the ministry, I really had no idea in which direction I should go.

Having spent all of my adult life up to that point preparing for and being in the ministry, I'd never had occasion to put together a resume for anything else - out there, in the world. Feeling a tad anxious about what to do next, I read books like What Color is Your Parachute? and Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow, crossed my fingers and took a leap of faith.

Since then, I've enjoyed a number of different occupations, including a five-year, part-time stint as half of a comedy-juggling duo. Currently, I make my living wearing three different hats: German translator, print and web designer, computer consultant.

Part of me has always been technologically inclined. In elementary school my tinkering with various electrical and mechanical projects earned me the nickname "mad scientist." After leaving the ministry, I began to reconnect with that other aspect of myself. I rediscovered my inner nerd. You know, the type of geeky guy who enjoys sitting at his computer for hours tracking down some arcane software glitch, who carefully notes upcoming spacecraft launches in his datebook and tries to keep abreast of the latest research in particle physics.

Because I also liked the idea of working in the realm where people and technology meet - or more often collide - I eventually found myself serving in a new kind of ministry, one with uncanny parallels to my ministry here in Exeter.

Unitarian Universalists are a small but vocal bunch amidst a much larger general populace with different beliefs.

My congregation now is also fringe group -- devotees of the Apple Macintosh. We make up barely 3 percent of all computer users. We, too, are a small but dedicated bunch, fervently clinging to our operating system amidst an overwhelming majority of those who subscribe to the doctrine of Saint William of Redmond. With apologies to the U.S. Marines, I like to say that we Mac users are "the few, the proud, the few."

During my time in Exeter, I preached sermons from this pulpit, and I now find myself preaching to members of my Macintosh congregation, sometimes with a bit of a prophetic edge, urging preparedness against their coming personal apocalypse. Please, please, please, I implore them, back up your data. With a computer hard drive, it's not a matter of if it'll fail but when.

And prayer too, is an important aspect of my technology ministry toolkit. Sitting vigil with a fellow Mac user, staring at the blank or scrambled screen of their ailing computer we're trying to revive, I often pray in silence or hushed, reverential tones. But depending on the severity of the problem and the comfort level of the computer owner, my prayers can become quite vociferous, and I've been known to swear oaths in colorful language.

Just as we ponder the questions of life, death and meaning in church, computers also confront us with profound mysteries: Why does my Web browser keep crashing? Why do I need to single-click on some icons and double-click on others? Why am I supposed to think like a computer, instead of the other way around? God only knows. When we're not in awe of the capabilities of these machines, we'd just as soon smash 'em to bits with a sledgehammer because we can feel so much at their mercy.

And thus, in my current ministry, my pastoral counseling skills also come into play, for instance, in comforting a computer user who has inadvertently erased three years' worth of email, or patiently encouraging another who feels daunted by that ever-present learning curve, or commiserating with all of those folks who just want the darn thing to work.

***

I may have left the ministry here in this church, but the ministry is still in me.

I love what I do now. I've been self-employed for over 10 years. My work is rarely boring, I meet the most interesting assortment of people and I never know from one day to the next what type of jobs I'll be working on. Last Thursday I translated a German entrepreneur's proposal for bringing Formula 1 racing to Abu Dhabi, started work on a Web site for a teacher of porcelain doll-making, and taught an 82-year-old woman how to scan color slides of her world travels and edit the digital images in Photoshop.

Even though I'm no longer a parish minister, I love what I learned from the ministry, and it informs my current work.

This is how the strands of our lives are woven. Any work you've ever done, any skill you've learned, any experience you've gained - it all contributes to making you a more enriched and capable person. You bring the sum total of yourself to bear upon whatever it is you're doing now.

Just as we Unitarian Universalists believe that there is no single, absolute religious truth, there is no one correct career path for a person. Wherever you are, trust that - if you open yourself to the possibilities that arise - you will find your way.

Above all, don't be afraid to pursue a job or a career that you think doesn't exist. It may well be out there. If you can't find it, you may be just the person to envision and create it.

I'd like to offer a few words from novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner, who taught and preached at Phillips Exeter Academy. These words have always resonated for me when thinking about work, or as the Buddhists call it, "right livelihood":

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

Daniel Kanter

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Sheri Prudhomme

Judith Brown Osgood

 


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