Church can be big business, but for one Oak Bay leader, business of the soul is biggest.
“I define my business as helping people nurture their relationship with their deepest selves and the beauty and pain of the world and God, the mystery, divine, something more we can’t explain but many of us want to connect to. To give strength and hope and meaning,” says Rev. Michelle Slater, Minister of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care at Oak Bay United Church. “I can do that best in a community with other people.”
The challenge and strength of being a woman in the role “are two sides of the same coin,” she says, noting some may not offer authority to a woman as readily as a man.
“However, people aren’t looking so much anymore for their leader to be in charge, an authoritarian. They’re looking for someone who can accompany them in their joys and sorrows,” she says.
“When I share my own personal stories of struggle and confusion – it’s harder for men in our culture to show that vulnerability, there is a sense it detracts from their authority – it gives me a different sense of authority. … I’m the same, not above.”
Slater has been an integral part of the Oak Bay United community since August 2013, where they come together for support and comfort or to rejoice and celebrate and create connections when heart strings are tugged. For example, when images emerged of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, people were shocked and dismayed at what happened to little Alan Kurdi and his family as they tried to flee Syria. They came together and gathered money, goods and shareable skills to support a family fleeing to Canada.
“When we gathered together and said to the wider community ‘How can we help?’ people responded in an amazing way,” she says. “None of us could do that alone. Together we can be so much more.”
A family from Syria arrived over a month ago, settled into a home and are working on building lives here.
That spells success in Slater’s business, a 24/7 job.
“This is a job that can take over if you don’t do it with intention,” she says. As part of her work-life balance, her Lenten practice this year is to forgo work emails, when not at work.
“That’s a very hard discipline for me,” she says.
It’s a boundary she hopes goes beyond the Easter season as she knows people can reach her in emergent situations, whether they be joy or sorrow. Her work days range from administration and meetings to one-on-one and group gatherings, Bible studies and films. Babies are born and people fall ill.
“Every day is different and I never know what I will encounter or receive. I’m in control of my own schedule and time largely,” she says. “It can go from the sublime to the ridiculous in 30 seconds.”