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A Light on the Unknown Way: On Being Mentored

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On August 14, 2015 at 9:00 am, I found myself at my Echo parish placement. Even though I had studied ministry as an undergrad and interned at a parish before, I was scared out of my mind to be at Christ the Redeemer. My fear came from not knowing what to expect—the unknown. I was a sojourner in a foreign land. Echo had placed me in Houston, Texas to work at a parish I had never heard of in an area where I had never been. Would I find a place here at this new parish with 6,500 families? Would I be ordered around to make copies and coffee, or would my gifts and talents be used well? Would my coworkers like me? Would I be able to find my way around?

As a part of my commitment to Echo, I also had signed up to be mentored by a veteran catechetical leader. In addition to being unsure of the entire parish of Christ the Redeemer, I was apprehensive about my Echo commitment to be mentored for two years by this woman I had seen only two times before. I knew that Kathy was a seasoned and well-respected catechetical leader, but I didn’t know what to expect in working with her as her apprentice. In fact, I considered the idea of being mentored unimportant—I figured that Kathy would mostly be in the background of my time at Christ the Redeemer, occasionally offering advice, assisting me in my ministries, or critiquing my performance. However, my relationship with Kathy would turn out to be anything but irrelevant or unimportant; in fact, Kathy would become an invaluable light in my life.

In the first few months of Echo, Kathy and I began to work together in different arenas of catechetical ministry. Getting acquainted with her as my mentor took the form of weekly meetings, sharing ideas about religious education, and picking up on her ministerial style. In beginning to work with her, I immediately saw why Kathy was such a respected catechetical leader in the way she formed relationships with parents, catechists, and other staff members. I realized Kathy’s openness to the Spirit in her work was the source of her pastoral attitude, exceptional ministerial skill, and long-range vision. As her apprentice, I recognized the invaluable opportunity I had to learn from one of the best in the field. I began to see the professional value of having a mentor, and that alone made me begin to cherish Kathy’s presence more and more.

In the midst of the catechetical rhythm of life at Christ the Redeemer, Kathy was my support in my adjustment to a new environment, and a welcome and providential influence upon my life. As we became closer and spent more time together, I was able to open up more and more to Kathy, who quickly became one of the most important people in my life. From mentor meetings to working together on new ministry ventures, Kathy embodied not only what it meant to live out her calling as a catechetical leader, but also as someone who had encountered Christ in a transformational way. Through her, I began to be able to see God’s hand, finally, in this unknown journey as she supported me through difficult personal decisions, transitions, and suffering from my past. Any time I came to her office, I could tell that Kathy shouldered my suffering with me. No matter what I was struggling with, I was always met with a loving and accepting listening presence in Kathy, who always welcomed me with enlightened wisdom. As I progressed in my relationship with her as my mentor, Kathy became a visible presence of the providential love of God.

Although Kathy and I have wonderful ministerial chemistry and share trusting, honest communication, our journey as mentor and apprentice has not been without challenges. Through my own mistakes and misjudgments, I have learned that being mentored is foremost an exercise of trust. It takes a degree of vulnerability to acknowledge that God’s hand is in all aspects of your mentoring relationship, from brainstorming ideas for a new ministry and spending time together in setting up for events, to spending time in deep conversation on the work of God in monthly theological reflection. In all of these moments of varying depth, the Spirit works through human imperfection of apprentice and mentor to create an encounter of two Christians traveling together in trust, respect, and love. Kathy and I have had difficult conversations and, at times, have had to make uncomfortable adjustments; however, the trust that I have in Kathy and love that she shows as my mentor have allowed me to grow more into myself on the journey of becoming who God destined me to be.

I struggle to describe the experience of being mentored for those who have never been so. Even though it is difficult to find language that adequately expresses the effect that Kathy has had on me as a catechetical leader and Christian, I can undoubtedly affirm the sacredness of my relationship with my mentor. Being mentored by Kathy has allowed me to directly contemplate the presence of God in this unknown journey. I look back with unimaginable gratitude for the woman who has been my guide in my joyful, searching, confusing, and painful path over the last two years. No one but a being so good and loving as God could have brought us together on this unknown way.

The book of Wisdom is where I hear my experience of being mentored resounding each time I read it. Throughout the book, the author glorifies God through recalling his saving action throughout salvation history, emphasizing times when the odds were stacked against Israel—when all hope was lost and uncertainty prevailed. In the last chapters of Wisdom, the author especially recalls Israel’s wandering through unknown lands to reach the promised land. Although Israel’s journey was long, confusing, unplanned, and painful at times, God never once leaves his children without his presence to guide them:

Therefore thou didst provide a flaming pillar of fire
as a guide for thy people’s unknown journey,
and a harmless sun for their glorious wandering. (Wis 18:3)

For me, a mentor is this: a bright but gentle flame who lights the way. Fire is life-giving and creative, and mentorship calls the mentor to “beget the Spirit” in her apprentice. By the witness of the mentor’s joyful living out of her call, the apprentice is moved to honor the presence of the Spirit in her own work and life. By her mentor’s faith in her, constant encouragement, and faithful leadership, an apprentice is tested and made stronger not only in ministerial skill, but also in her individual Christian identity. Although she is called to challenge her apprentice, a mentor’s light is “harmless,” seeking only to chastise out of love and for the good of the apprentice. And finally, the journey between mentor and apprentice is meant to be a mutual and joyful partaking in “glorious wandering” together. Light-heartedness and joy surrounds the relationship as mentor and apprentice frequently take time to remember that for a short time, they belong to one another on this unknown journey.

Kathy has been this bright, burning but harmless flame in my journey through Echo. In our time together, she has been the light that has guided, encouraged, and tested me. As my mentor, she has always reminded me of the constant, faithful presence of God, especially in the times when I couldn’t see it for myself. Kathy’s witness to her own faith and calling is what has led me to an even deeper awareness of the love of God. In my experience of being mentored, Kathy has guided me in a way that has not only allowed me to see the light of divine life in ministry and ordinary life, but also recognize this light in my own soul. Being mentored by Kathy has been a gift, both to my practice of catechetical ministry and progression in my spiritual process of “becoming.” This holy journey we have taken together has prepared me well for my own living out of my vocation to ministry. Previously unknown and uncertain, I will frequently recall these past two years with gratitude, awe, and familiarity with the providence of God, as my soul has been ignited by the experience of having Kathy as my mentor.

Colleen Campbell

Colleen Campbell is an Echo 12 apprentice at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.