Thursday, August 20, 2009

In honor of Exploration 2009: My Call to Ministry

Today many UM Young Clergy are writing about their call as part of an encouragement for young people who are attending (or still thinking about attending) Exploration in November, which is a discernment event for 17-24 year olds thinking about ordained ministry in the UMC.

I think sharing my own call story can be both frustrating and encouraging for others considering a call to ministry. Frustrating and encouraging, because for me, everything about hearing, responding, and following through with my call to ministry went well. I have very little in the way of discouraging horror stories about people trying to prevent me from seeking to become a pastor. I have a story about what happens when everything goes like it is supposed to.

As a small child, I attended Westernville United Methodist Church, in a little, two-road town. Somewhere at about age 5, I thought I wanted to be a pastor, and started collecting the bulletins after worship each Sunday. I kept them in a pile on my corner shelf in my room, so they'd be all ready for me when I was the pastor. Of course, that desire went away, as I soon wanted to be a truck driver, ballerina, actress, and other things. But the huge benefit I received from that tiny church was that I had, by the time I was in 6th grade, experienced at least 3 clergywomen. Women often got appointed to little churches like that - appointments, I learned as I got older - that no one would want - it was part of a three-point charge and must have drained the energy out of every pastor that went there. But for me, it meant that I had no idea at all that it was unusual in any way for women to be pastors. So I am very grateful for that. I also have pastors in the family - including one uncle who is still active in ministry. They didn't all love the ministry in the same way, or model pastoring in the same way to me. But again, the idea of being a pastor was just not unusual to me in those early years, and I can't imagine how much they contributed to my call.

In addition to those foundational pieces, I also grew up believing that I was called to something. That God would call me, and I would have to listen for what that was. Thanks Mom! So, I had the advantage of being on the lookout for God's call from the start.

It was really during my time at Rome 1st UMC that I heard and answered God's call. The pastor during most of my time there was Rev. Bruce Webster, now, unfortunately, retired. Bruce was so encouraging and supportive - not just of me, but of everyone who had something they wanted to try. He was very permission-giving in his leadership. I had been thinking about camping ministry, working at our church camp, Aldersgate. When that wasn't clicking quite right, I was thinking about youth ministry instead. Bruce let me plan and lead a youth service at church - and he really just let me run with it. People started making comments about me attending seminary, which I brushed off. I was *not* headed for seminary. Obviously.

Searching for a college to major in youth ministry was where that plan fell apart. I was, even then, aware that I was theogically - well, I guess I wouldn't have used the word liberal or progressive then - but I was finding it hard to not to feel totally - wrong and out of place - in some of the Christian colleges that offered youth ministry. Bruce helped me again - pointing out some UMC-affiliated schools, including Ohio Wesleyan. Ohio Wesleyan didn't have youth ministries, but it had a pre-theology track, and by the time I started in the fall of 1997, things had just fallen into place, and I was sure I was called to be a pastor. It's hard to recount exactly when and how that shift happened. But once it did, I hardly cast a backward glance.

My journey through the ordination process and accompanying schooling was a positive experience for me, with only the occasional paperwork mix-up. I had a supportive home congregation, who affirmed me and gave me chances to work and learn and experience and preach. Just before I was appointed, I was filling in for a then-very ill new pastor, and the same folks that saw me as a 6th grader were willing to let me preach to them week after week. My first congregation was a bunch of people practically made to support a candidate through the provisional-member process. And here I am, somehow in the blink of an eye, in my 7th year of pastoral ministry.

And so, my call may be frustrating or encouraging. Frustrating if it hasn't been so clear to you. Encouraging to know that sometimes things do fall into place and go smoothly.

What I would most like to lift up though, is that while God might be calling you into ordained ministry (or not,) God might also be calling you to show someone else that they're called. Helping someone see that God is calling them - that's a ministry that is so essential. Who do you see God calling? Can you help them hear?

Thank you, to so many people who helped me hear, and then encouraged me on my journey: Mom, Bruce. The clergywomen who served Westernville UMC: Polly Burdett, Jody Watson, Gail Eddy, and Crystal Markowski. Freddie Stanulevich, and Rich Hartz, my Sunday School teachers. Ruth Dietrich. Jane Butters. Dave Hays. Tom Weiss (whose frequent-flyer miles sent me to Exploration in 1996) and Beth Benham (who talked about Exploration at Annual Conference that year.) Bertha Holmes. Uncle Bill, Uncle Bob. Rev. Van. Rome 1st, Oneida St. Paul's. Thank you.
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