End of Year 1

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July 7 marks my ordination-to-the-priesthood anniversary: one year.  It therefore seems a good time to reflect over the past year, maybe even over the past twenty-five years; and to look ahead to the twenty-five or so years remaining in my career–not that I hope only to live for only another twenty-five years, leaving me dead at seventy-one; but that I will retire from full-time ministry at about that time (the Episcopal Church presently has a mandatory retirement age of seventy-two).

Along these lines, I used to think I’d work till I died: who needs retirement, right?  But now I’m more of the mindset that I will rejoice to stop full-time parochial work and take on a growing list of projects, like completing some works of fiction I’ve already begun and writing others; and like spending vast quantities of time in the great cities of Europe; and like taking the time necessary to read, mark, and inwardly digest and otherwise work through Homer and Vergil; and like obtaining and using season tickets for a symphony orchestra; and like watching my kids and grandkids grow and mature; and like–well, you get the idea.

So for the past twenty-five years:

  • Twenty-five years ago I was twenty-one, working at Hume Lake Christian Camps in California as a camp counselor.  Already the Holy Spirit was working on my own spirit with the suggestion that full-time work in Gospel ministry might be my vocation some day.
  • Twenty-five years ago I’d just moved out of my parents’ house, going from there to Hume Lake, and from Hume to Davis, where I’d transferred to finish out my education.
  • Twenty-five years ago I was a mathematics major.
  • Somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-four years ago I switched my major to music, concluding that I would like to pursue seminary after college, to earn a master’s of divinity and seek ordination.  It didn’t matter to seminaries what academic discipline I majored in, just that I earned a bachelor’s degree.  Curiously, even though I’d never studied the languages, I thought some about switching from math to classics (Greek and Latin); but music, already a known passion, won the day.
  • Shortly after that I met Holly.
  • Some time in here I was baptized at First Baptist Church of Davis.
  • Holly and I got pretty serious; marriage looked like a possibility.  I shared my desire for full-time ministry, resolved to take whatever I needed time to get there.  She liked the idea and resolved to take this journey with me.
  • We married on Sept. 11, 1993.
  • My first attempt at seminary came in the fall of 1994.  Holly and I were about to have our first child, so we moved to Colorado to settle in before the baby’s arrival.  Denver Seminary was the plan, a Baptist seminary.  But work was scarce.
  • So, without starting seminary, and accepting an offer to be Director of Youth Ministries with Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in my home town, we returned to California.  Now there were three mouths to feed.
  • Youth ministry was a blast.  Here I did manage to attend the Master’s Seminary part-time, where I studied Greek and Hebrew and plodded my way through a two-year Bible survey.  Through it all I surmised I probably was not as aligned with the way Baptist churches do things as with other churches.  But which ones?
  • After three years, and now with four mouths to feed, I left Baptist youth ministry to begin a career teaching in Christian schools.  This was still youth ministry, I reasoned, and in many ways more substantial than the ministry I had been engaged in.  But I wasn’t sure of my denominational alignment (if any), and also reasoned that I should step out of formally recognized ministry until such a time that others recognized my call.
  • Teaching took us to various parts of the country–a real adventure over a dozen years.  In that time I ended up teaching all ages from kindergarten through college.  Also in here was a three-year stint with a civil engineering firm (making a total of fifteen years), which, frankly, paid the bills better than teaching.
  • The other journey was spiritual.  I grew a lot during these years: I was a part of a failing school start-up; we faced and overcame cancer; I experienced a high level of success in another newly started school; I increased my Greek and learned Latin, equipping me with unlooked for skills desired by Christian schools seemingly all over; our family grew in size from four to seven.  All this shaped me as a man in general; but particularly I grew leaps and bounds spiritually, counting on God through it all to lead, guide, and otherwise direct.  Trust is the word that comes to mind here.  But also, during this time we went from Baptist to Presbyterian (when four kids were baptized on the same day) to, finally, Episcopal.  The sacraments, liturgy, and musical tradition beckoned too strongly for us to ignore.
  • So, finally, having settled into this particular Christian tradition, and with me becoming more comfortable with the idea that maybe I would never be ordained, that maybe my career would only ever be to teach–in this context, the local bishop entered me into a formal process of discernment, a process that led to seminary and ordination.  And so my sense of call some twenty-five years ago has been realized.

Whew!  Doesn’t this journey sound tiring?  It has been.  But along the way I’ve been placing myself in the shoes of whatever pastor/rector has been leading the particular congregation of which I was a part, often in roles of church leadership myself, always asking myself what I’d do in a given situation.  Thus I graduated seminary and entered the priesthood a year ago ready to get to work, so to speak.  Yes, I’m tired.  But yes, too, I’m ready to press on, like I’ve run half the marathon already but I’ve still got half of it to go.  No time to slow up now.  In fact, heck, I’ve just settled into my stride.  So looking ahead:

  • Soon I hope to find a parish that I can settle into for a long time, perhaps the remainder of my career.  I’m ready–not a kid with no life experience.  (Yet I realize too that one can never be completely ready, but must trust in God’s leading.)  This is a tall order for a curate, I realize, to go from a first appointment into a position of parish rector.  But it’s not impossible.
  • In that ministry (wherever and whenever it will be) I hope to focus on pastoral care, Christian formation, and outreach.  More specifically, the Anglican tradition (of which the Episcopal Church is a part) already possesses a rich tradition of liturgy and practice; I intend to draw from these rather than from the latest successful methods.  Why spend my time, I figure, concentrating on attractive gimmicks to get newcomers through the doors when instead I have the Daily Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer) and spiritual direction already at my disposal?  And just to get a little pragmatic here, contrary to what some are saying there is in fact a high amount of interest in the ancient traditions among young people, particularly among the twenty-something singles.  As for Christian formation, well, I’ve been putting together curricula and teaching and administrating professionally for a dozen years; this whole part of the calling is in my blood.  And as for outreach, I intend to be, well, intentional about getting out into the community–on school boards, a city council, involved with sports and scouts, perhaps the Rotary Club–wherever I can without over-extending myself.  Etc.
  • But primarily I am resolved never to lose sight of my duty to provide spiritual leadership to whatever community I eventually find myself leading.
  • And to trust.

So, yes, I’m tired already.  But on the other hand I’m just hitting my stride, and this energizes me.  Besides, this is the only marathon I’ll ever run.  Best to run it well, with perseverance.

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One Response to “End of Year 1”

  1. Winifred Grace Says:

    Congratulations on your first year in the priesthood. May I say the Episcopal Church is blessed by your ministry! You may not remember me, but we met briefly on your trip to Vermont the end of June. I was so hoping you and Holly would be spending a long time with us here, but that was not to be at this time. I want you to know though that you both are still in my thoughts and prayers as you search for a church home of your own. Wherever you go will be most fortunate indeed, and I feel so very fortunate to have found your blog. At least, I can follow along with you as you journey. You have such wise and incite-full things to say and make them so relevant to what it happening today. May God continue to bless your work and find just the right place for you and your family. And perhaps if it is God’s will that our paths cross again someday.

    Blessings,
    Winnie Grace

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