Archive for June, 2019

Why School Chaplaincy: Vocational Ideals

Posted in Rationale with tags , , on June 29, 2019 by timtrue

My sense of call to the ordained ministry surfaced in college.

I hadn’t grown up in the church.

Dealing with a series of deep personal questions following my parents’ divorce, in high school I delved into some off-campus Bible studies led by some well-meaning if theologically misguided young adults. That was my introduction to the Christian faith.

When I moved away to Davis, California I decided it was high time to get baptized and join a church.

I jumped in with both feet to everything I was hearing and learning: the conservative American evangelical version of the Christian faith. Soon I was a key player on the College Life leadership team, a ministry of the church that baptized me; and during the summers I worked on program staff at a large and very popular evangelical Christian camp in the Sierra Nevadas.

Maybe not all my probing questions were addressed—definitely not! But one message came through loud and clear: Christianity was fun.

So, college became easy and enjoyable. I studied what I wanted, what I was passionate about—music theory and composition—rationalizing that I was bound for a graduate education in seminary, to earn a Master of Divinity degree. Seminary required a bachelor’s degree. Major mattered little. Check!

Well, do you see where this is going?

I met a girl. Our mutual interests in music and spirituality soon began morphing into discussions about the future, maybe even our future together. Seminary still figured into the equation, but more pressing became the idea of marriage and family, new life, resurrection after my parents’ divorce. Which is what we did, fresh out of college, jobless but in love.

After a year of doing this and that then, not to mention the birth of our first daughter, an opportunity availed itself: I accepted the position as Director of Youth Ministries with Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in my hometown.

We were happy. Our parents were happy. We were on our way to vocation realization. Life was good!

But here’s where it all went.

Up till now I had only very limited experience in actual churches. The one that baptized me in Davis was really more like a parachurch college ministry than church. It had a college worship service on Sundays, ninety-five percent of people in attendance being, you guessed it, college students. And in the Sunday school hour, when the rest of the congregation went to church, we college students had our College Sunday school class.

The gist is I knew very little about a church as a community, largely run by parishioners with money and longevity and opinions about the way things should be.

And now I found myself in a Baptist Church, still feeling called to ordained ministry, trying to maintain and develop a ministry for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college students, drawing from what I knew.

Which most definitely ran against the grain of the parishioners with money and longevity and opinions!

I noticed that the kids drawn to my ministry were largely in conflict with friends and family members, some effectively estranged from their parents, one a foster kid. What was needed was love enacted. The kids needed to feel respect and dignity; families needed reconciliation; the foster kid, who would be kicked out on his own on his eighteenth birthday despite not yet having finished high school, needed support. Big tasks!

What my overseers–the wealthy ones with staying power and expectations–wanted to see, however, was what they called “altar-call experiences, like a miniature Billy Graham Crusade. Bring 500 kids into the church. Do something fun. Then, in the last five minutes, preach at ’em! And don’t do anything to attract the skaters and surfers. We want the popular kids, the jocks and cheerleaders!”

Really? Fun? Is that what sums up the Christian faith?

I was a Baptist Youth Director long enough to realize I wasn’t a Baptist. So I quit.

Still, the personal sense of vocation remained. Except now my wife and I had two young daughters. Diapers and groceries couldn’t wait. Vocation realization, however, would have to.

Why School Chaplaincy: an Introduction

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , on June 21, 2019 by timtrue

I jotted most of this post down on June 2, when I was visiting our soon-to-be home in Tucson. I plan to reflect on this move from time to time as we Trues settle into the newest chapter of our lives. The post is not much, but it is a starting point; and it addresses a question I have been asked many times in the past couple of months. The answer I give today is general. It will become more specific in future posts. For what it’s worth, church life can take a toll on priests.

DSCF3301

So, I’m sitting here in Tucson, in the house I will be moving into with my family in just over two weeks, with a little time on my hands.

I’m here on a scouting trip. To take pictures of the place so that my wife and I can figure out if our furniture will fit; and to go over details with the landlord, details like there are no blinds on the windows and the gas company failed to turn on the gas despite our bending over backwards to accommodate them.

The house, by the way, is fantastic. It’s a renovated bungalow with wood floors and wavy glass (i. e., old) window panes and a wonderfully landscaped backyard for entertaining.

Its location is likewise: seven blocks from my place of work (downtown) and two blocks off a very cool (and rather gritty) historic shopping and restaurant district. (The other Trues will have a 9-mile commute.)

But the house is 113 years old. So, yeah, it’s also got all the old house quirks and creeks, moans, groans, and inconveniences. (The garage is too short for my midsize pickup!) Wondering if there might even be a ghost story or two that comes with the place. . . .

Anyway, it should prove a good place for us to be for the next several years—while we save up a downpayment for a place of our own.

But all this points to an elephantine question (in the room): why move at all?

And you’re right to ask it. St. Thomas was a good gig.

I was a priest in charge of a congregation, I was my own boss, people listened to what I had to say, most of them even respected my leadership, I got along well with my bishop and colleagues, and I was making ends meet (not to mention building a pension).

I was comfortable. My family was comfortable. Why would any priest want to move on from such a situation? Why not just cruise for nineteen more years till retirement?

Well, thank you for your interest. It’s an unusual move, I know. But I’m following the calling Christ has given; and the past six years of parochial ministry have made clear that, for now anyway, it is time to step out of the priest-in-charge-of-a-congregation role.

Suffice that I am partly to blame–my disposition, how I’m wired, is more suited to school chaplaincy; but it is also partly (and I will argue much more) the fault of the institution we have created, which is very similar to the religious establishment Jesus opposed again and again in the Gospels.

More to come soon.