Archive for life’s path

Why School Chaplaincy: Ideals Bow to Pragmatics

Posted in Rationale with tags , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2019 by timtrue

Soon two kids became three; then three became four. All daughters. Each roughly two years apart. Yep, when our oldest turned six, Baby Number Four was about to say hello to the world.

The dream of ordination was now clouded by the necessity to get food on the table and diapers on bottoms.

On a teacher’s salary.

That’ll put one’s faith in ideals to the test!

But we managed, somehow, by teaching piano, voice, and violin students out of our home. I also took on evening jobs, usually having to do with music in some stripe of church or other.

And that was life for a while.

Treadmill.

Plodding on.

The vocational dream was still there, but now more like a phantom, leaving me to wonder often if I was merely imagining the ghost or if it was actually something of substance.

So I poured myself into my work, trying to extract value from it and not just going through the motions. I filled holes when they came up, offering to do extra work, administrative work, development work, curriculum work, as long as a few more dollars fit into the scenario.

Which is how I ended up, among other things, learning and teaching Latin. Teacher shortages were real and I was willing and energetic.

Having joined a Presbyterian Church by now, the pastor learned of my latent sense of ordination vocation and encouraged me to apply to a sister church in Texas, a church looking for a full-time staff person to focus half-time on education and half-time on music.

A chance to get back into church ministry? Heck yes! I was interested.

The interview went very well. My wife liked the idea. I was offered the position. We packed up and moved 1500 miles east.

So certain were we of this turn of events, in fact, so certain were we in our faith, that we bought a house.

This was God’s will for us, surely.

Only it wasn’t.

Somewhere between California and Texas the church’s elders decided that the timing wasn’t right to build the education program: the budget couldn’t support me.

Only they didn’t say anything to me until after we’d closed on the house.

Well, we decided the house would root us; we’d take the adventure that awaited us. An adventure, I might add, that wasn’t to include the Presbyterian Church.

So it was there–after returning to the profession where I had found success–teaching–but otherwise feeling back at Square One–no friends, no family nearby, no professional network yet–that we decided to check out the Episcopal Church.

And–why had it taken us so long?–we were home!

Here was a church that didn’t cheapen grace by calling Christianity fun. Here was a church, too, that recognized the faith as not so simple, not so black-and-white as our evangelical roots kept trying to tell us. The Christian faith, in other words, was more like real life: genuine.

That was a breath of fresh air for us.

We also liked the beauty of the music and liturgy, and a theology that included kids in the Eucharist, etc., but that’s another topic for another day.

Fast forward a year or so. By now my wife and I had been confirmed and received into the church. Then, suddenly and rashly it seemed to me, not long after the 2006 General Convention, the rector stood at the pulpit on a Sunday and announced,

“Well, the vestry and I have been having some serious discussions. We’ve come to an agreement that next Sunday will be our last. We’ll march out of here together to another building we’ve rented two blocks away. We’re leaving the Episcopal Church!”

My wife and I were floored! We’d just found our spiritual home–at long last!

So I called the bishop directly to express my concern and mentioned, “I wish I were ordained so that I could jump in here and help out.”

Truth is stranger than fiction, they say.

My words struck a chord with the bishop. In a short time I found myself entering a formal discernment process. Adult-lifelong dream, always met with obstacles; until now, when it was happening almost without any initiative or effort on my part!

By spring of 2008 the bishop asked if I was interested in relocating to attend a residential seminary.

Gulp!

By now we were expecting Baby Number 5, so I said something like, “Sounds great! But I can’t see how we could afford it–five kids in the house!”

We agreed to take a year to process, pray, daydream, and otherwise consider this new/revisited idea. Would seminary 2010 actually come to be?

During that year of daydreaming etc. it dawned on me that there is a very strong network of Episcopal schools all over the country, most of which employ a full-time chaplain, an ordained priest.

So, what if I could combine my ideal vocation with my realized one–priest with educator?

“Bishop,” I asked one day in the middle, maybe during winter, “what if I were to become a school chaplain after ordination?”

“Tim,” he said, with a look on his face that was somewhere between dejection and disapproval, “I don’t send people to seminary to become chaplains. I send them to be parochial priests.”

“Okay,” I replied, quickly realizing that pragmatism would have to trump my idealism in the moment–like it had in so many other moments over the last fifteen years–“of course! Yes. I want to be a parochial priest.”

The bishop and I never brought up the subject again.

But the idea remained lodged firmly in my psyche.

2015 Lent 20

Posted in Lent 2015 with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2015 by timtrue
Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Family trip to Yuma in 2002.

Jeremiah 10:11-24

All this stuff recently about human nature’s complexities and arguing with God–today we see it come to a head.  Today, Jeremiah argues with God through a prayer:

I know, O Lord, that the way of human beings is not in their control,
that mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.
Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure;
not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing (vv. 23-24).

Human beings are a piece of work, Jeremiah acknowledges.  But, guess what, God: that includes me.  I, your precious prophet, am a piece of work too.  For I’m a human being.  I make stupid mistakes just like everyone else.  So, yes, correct me.  Show me the correct path to follow.  But don’t do it out of anger.  Just give me what I can handle, enough but not too much.

Have you ever felt this way?  Have you ever prayed a prayer like Jeremiah’s?

It’s not just in morality though.  We mortals also have trouble directing our steps in other ways.

Take that question posed seemingly to all children: what do you want to be when you grow up?  I wanted to be a veterinarian, a concert pianist, a fighter pilot, a motorcycle journalist, an orchestral conductor, a composer, a writer, and a teacher–among other things–along the way.  In other words, I had no idea as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Yet I ended up here, somehow, a priest of the Episcopal Church.  So I closely empathize with Jeremiah’s words: “the way of human beings is not in their control”; and mortals “cannot direct their steps.”

Can you empathize too?

Now that I am a priest, I am feeling this lack of control again.  Keenly.

Earlier this week I announced to my congregation that I will be moving on from my present position as curate.  I’ve accepted a call to be the next rector of a church in Yuma, Arizona.

On the one hand, this move has been coming for more than twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve aspired to just such a position.  That’s how long I’ve been putting myself in the shoes of others I’ve known in this role.

But on the other hand, if you’d have told me twenty years ago that I’d end up in Yuma–or Texas, or Sewanee, or the Episcopal Church–I’d have said pshaw!  Yuma is hot!  The record temperature is 124 degrees.  The one-hundred-teens are typical in July and August.  Why would I ever want to go there?

To answer, I could say it’s close to my aging parents, a lot closer than where I live now at any rate.  I could say it’s the old west, just a little newer.  I could say it’s at the confluence of California, Arizona, and Mexico, an interesting place, which it is.  I could say how its economy of agriculture and military is strong, and has remained so through our country’s recent recession, which it has.  Or I could say how promising a place it feels to raise a family, which it does.

But above all this, it’s really more that I cannot very effectively direct my own steps; the path I follow is not fully under my control.

So, like Jeremiah, I have a prayer for today too.  Make it yours if you like:

Give me what I can handle, God; enough, but not too much.