Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Monument Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 9

And now, back to our program.

I got off track a bit and now I am going to go back and pick up where I left off in volume 7. I was in my first semester of seminary, barely hanging on when it was discovered that Alisha had a serious brain tumor. (I guess all brain tumors are serious but this one was especially serious.) I have some really vivid memories of getting that phone call in my depressing little apartment. I remember being completely beside myself for a while, then calling Southwest Airlines then calling my sister to get a ride to the airport. Alisha, being the free spirit that she is was not around when I got to Austin. She had tickets to a concert and opted to go.

Alisha was already my fiancée; we had our wedding scheduled for the next spring. However, the next day, I asked her to marry me sooner, before the surgery. She wouldn’t answer me right away, but finally we went to the courthouse and got the license. Our friend Tina performed the ceremony in the chapel at First UMC in Austin the day before Alisha’s surgery. In fact, after the wedding, we had a little cake in the foyer and then, instead of heading off on our honeymoon, we got in the car with her mother and drove to the hospital for pre-op tests.

Because this is about my call to ministry, and not about Alisha, I am not going to write a lot about the surgery. Alisha ought to write a book about the whole thing. The important news is that she did fine and continues to do fine. In fact, given the diagnosis, things went miraculously well. For the point of this series, the key question is, how did this affect my call to ministry?

Looking back, I feel that my calling has always been pretty deep because this part certainly could have derailed it. It wasn’t that it tested my faith; it was that it just sort of got me off track. For two weeks I was focused solely on Alisha. I was just praying, at first, that she would survive, and then I was thinking about recovery, insurance, income and what we were going to do for the next few months.

I thought for a while about dropping out of seminary, for now. And then I did something that really impacted my future ministry. I went to visit the folks at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I decided to finish up the semester at Perkins in Dallas and then move back to Austin to be with Alisha and what turned out to be a wonderful seminary community. And, oh yeah, I ended up back to Oak UMC, but more on that later!



Friday, May 23, 2008

The Monument Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 8

On our last episode of General Hospital…

It is really difficult to keep forward momentum in this project. I keep wanting to go back and fill in something that I missed. For instance, I could go back and talk about my experience in Disciple Bible Study (mentioned in vol. 2). After I had first expressed my call to ministry, Pastor John had suggested I get more involved. One of the ways I did this was in Disciple Bible Study. I cannot begin to tell you what an amazing impact that study had on my life and call to ministry.

I was with our Bishop, Joel Martinez this past week for his annual meeting with the class of ordinands. Part of his opening reflection was about how it is important to remember those people who helped us and walked with us in our faith journey and our call to ministry. The members of that Disciple Bible Study we are all incredibly important people in my journey.
I spent two and a half (and often three) hours a week with eleven other men and women studying the Bible, praying and discussing God’s work in our lives. I learned more about God, scripture and myself in those nine months than I ever have since. That is where I really got to know Rev. Barbara Ruth, my current District Superintendent (and another person who will lay hands on me as the Bishop ordains me at Annual Conference) and my friend Katie who walked with me through some amazingly wonderful and difficult parts of my call to ministry.

It was also during this class that I became very clear about my call. I walked into the class the first week with my brand new Bible having never really read anything from it. During the second to last class, the group is to take time reflecting on each other’s gifts. It was there that I first heard my internal call confirmed by others. I was quite shocked to hear my new friends express that, in me, they saw gifts and a calling to full-time Christian ministry.

I have amazing trust in God’s ability to get things done, but I just can’t imagine that I would have followed my call had it not been for that class. It wasn’t just what I learned, but what I became through it. I guess it is really fitting for a person called to a ministry of deepening discipleship to have been nurtured in his call during a class called Disciple.

As I reflect on this, it really reminds me how important it is for all of us to be aware of those around us who may be wrestling with God’s call on their lives and how important it is for us to be that voice of confirmation. This doesn’t always have to be about ordained ministry. If someone says to you, “You know, I just feel like I might want to work with youth,” and you see in them gifts and talents for that ministry, God may be calling you to tell them that, to confirm what God is placing on their heart. Sometimes confirmation needs to come in the midst of ministry. If you see someone following God’s call and doing a good job at it, God may be calling you to let them know that they are valued.

I am also reminded of the importance of community in our journey as Christians. We are all called to ministry of some sort and that call and confirmation most often come to us in community, in the Body of Christ we call the church. The place where this community does its best work is in small groups, especially small groups that are focused on scripture.

More soon, I promise I will get back to the cliffhanger ending of the last episode!



Thursday, May 22, 2008

Transitions are always tricky

As much as I am looking forward to my move to San Antonio, moving and transitioning are always complicated. Fortunately most of the stuff is small. When I migrated to the new weblog, I forgot to adjust the commenting procedure. If you would like to comment on any of the posts, life just got a whole lot easier. Hopefully, my ordination journey series will continue soon!



Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 7

I seem to be bouncing around a bit. I started in the first post telling about my first step in declaring my call to ministry. Somewhere along the line I got off the timeline and went back to what got me to church. We will call this a flashback sequence. But, if I want to get this project done before I am actually ordained, I better jump forward in time. Maybe, I won’t jump, but fast-forward. I went to that church (Oak Hill in Austin) for a while. I quit that job at KHFI and I went camping. I took my dog Bodhi and loaded up my truck and drove. We camped in Oklahoma, Arkansas and in just about every state on the way to New York where I visited my parents for a while. Then I took off and went to Pennsylvania to see some friends. I stopped by to visit some friends at the radio station I used to work at in Pennsylvania. While I was there I met a man who ran a new division of that radio company in Austin, Texas. He told me to go back to Austin and he would give me a job. So after a little more camping, off I went. I got a cool job which gave me more time to go to church. I got baptized and joined the church. I got more involved. I felt a call to ministry (that was covered in an earlier post). I went to talk to Pastor John and began the inquiry process which got stalled when I hadn’t been a member long enough and restarted a couple months later (also covered earlier). This brings us back up to volume four and my time with Tina Carter at First UMC in Austin. Sometime after I started visiting that Saturday night worship service I: got laid off from my job, fell in love and got engaged, applied to and got accepted to Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas, and finished up the first step or my ordination inquiry process.

So, in the fall of 2001, I packed up my stuff, sent my dog to live with my sister and drove to Dallas to start seminary. I moved into a horrible little apartment about ten minutes from the school and began some of the hardest months of my life. I had never really thought about it before in these terms, but beginning a Master of Divinity degree program less than two years after my baptism was a really crazy thing to do. First of all, nearly all my fellow students had years and years of background that I didn’t. I was one of the younger members of the entering class and I hadn’t grown up the church. I had learned a lot already but many of my classmates were much more familiar with the history, tradition and beliefs of the church as well as much more familiar with scripture. Some of the folks in my classes even had undergraduate degrees in religion. I was a communications major who hadn’t even been through confirmation.

It also occurs to me as I look back that spiritually I was a very new Christian. I hadn’t had time to develop the spiritual depth and foundation to support me through the incredible stress of the workload, the complete upheaval of my life, and the loneliness (all my new Christian brothers and sisters were back in Austin as was my fiancé!)

And then just as I was hanging on by a thread, reading more than I had ever read, learning to write at a Master’s Degree level, trying to continue my spiritual journey, my fiancé, Alisha, calls one day crying. After some prodding, she tells me she has a brain tumor. I have to tell you, for both Alisha and I, before that point, we only used “brain tumor” to describe what something wasn’t, as in “Well, at least it is not a brain tumor.” She had a pretty big one and it needed to come out right away. I was back in Austin that night, leaving seminary behind, for a while.

More soon!



Monday, May 12, 2008

The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 6

Previously on Battlestar Galactica… I had just started going to church. I think I will linger on this for at least one post because it is really important. We talk a lot about how to get more young people to follow the call into the ministry. Well, it is very difficult for a young person to follow a call into the ministry if they can’t find their way into a church.

My first visit to church was, how shall I say it, terrifying. I sometimes hear lifelong church people criticizing modern churches for trying to look more like a mall or an office plaza than a church. However, from a person who walked cold into church for the very first time all by himself, I applaud churches who go out of their way, in any way possible to be welcoming to unchurched people. Most people have no idea how terrifying it is for a seeker to take the first step into a church. Many churches make this worse by making themselves quite difficult to enter in the first place. It is very clear, even from the outside that churches have a structure and language all their own. It seemed to me, as an outsider, that churches wanted to make it clear that I was an outsider.

None of the following is meant as a criticism of Oak Hill UMC, where I first attended, especially since they have since remedied most of these things. I went to the church early, at least a half hour before their 8:30 service. I wanted to check things out. Also, being an outsider, I didn’t know how early one was supposed to get there. I saw two, “first time visitor” parking spaces right in front of the building. Did I park there? No way! Do you think a young outsider want to be instantly labeled as a new person? I parked far away. There were three buildings and lots of doors. Being fairly smart, I went to the doors by the visitor spots and immediately entered into the wrong building. I walked right into the choir warming up. I have to tell you, this was a bad way to start off. Fortunately, the choir director Mary Beth was an overwhelmingly graceful presence (most people don’t describe her that way but she was for me.) After inviting me to join the choir, she showed me how to get to the building where worship was held.

I finally got to the right place, was handed a bulletin, sat in the very back row and proceeded to be completely lost for an hour. I tried to follow the bulletin but I didn’t really know what was going on. At one point everyone stood up to sing and I couldn’t, for the life of me figure out why or what they were singing. (I was later told they were singing the doxology to which I replied, “what’s a doxology?”) And then came Holy Communion. I didn’t really know what it was or if I was really invited. (Note to pastors, just because you say, “all are welcome” doesn’t mean everyone hears “all are welcome.” They may hear, “all are welcome except unbaptized heathens” which may be what some pastors actually mean.”) So I didn’t go, even when the usher tried twice to tell me it was my turn. I was the only one who didn’t go.

In reflection, as I write this, I am become more convinced of the power of prevenient Grace. For, if it were not for the power of God’s grace tugging at my heart, in light of my first experience of church, I would have never gone back.

More soon!



Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 5

When last we joined our web slinging wonder…

Where was I? Oh yes, I was telling about going to church in downtown Austin and crossing paths with my good friend Tina Carter. I just can’t say enough how important finding that worshipping community was for my journey. It was just about the time I started worshipping there that lots of things started happening in my life. But let me back up.

So, how was it that a boy from New York State who never went to church as a child, ended up going to church in Austin, Texas in the first place? In case you haven’t heard or read it, I was a radio disc jockey prior to all this. The end of that career is really all tied up in my call to ministry, so let me tell a bit about that. I was working for a rock radio station WZZO in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I had the afternoon slot, 3-7 and the coolest boss on the entire planet. It was a couple years into this job that I began my life as a seeker. I started doing odd things. (Odd for me anyway.) I moved out my apartment and got a house in the country outside of town. I drove all the way to Ohio to buy a very particular Labrador Retriever. I started hiking and backpacking. I became more and more dissatisfied with my very cool job that gave me a very cool income. Not knowing what else to do, I started sending out demo tapes and resumes. To make a long story short, I finally got an offer to move to Austin to direct commercial production for the top 40 station in town KHFI. I took the job since, at the time, I had two sisters living in Austin and my parents spent a lot of time there. I hated the job immediately. It wasn’t actually a bad job. It was even easier than the old one and I had plenty of time to hang out in Austin. But it was clear that my dissatisfaction was not going to be fulfilled by a change of scenery. I continued doing things that were odd for me. I stayed with my sister for a while until I found a double wide trailer for rent on a big piece of land outside town. It was really peaceful. But I was not feeling much inner peace. I was seeking something in my life and I didn’t know what it was. I had a friend who had become an eclectically spiritual person. She thought my issue was a spiritual one and she started sending me books on spirituality, and I thought they were sort of interesting but odd.

It took me a while to remember the timeline of the next part. At some point, the irritation inside me just got overwhelming. I was deeply unhappy and I just couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t feel depressed. I was just empty. So the oddest thing happened. I felt this desire to pray. And I had no idea where it came from. And so I did something I had never really done before. I got down on my knees in my bedroom (cause that’s how people pray on T.V.) and I prayed. And I prayed the oddest prayer. I said, “God, show me the path.” It felt weird even saying that and especially saying it to someone who didn’t appear to be in the room.

I did that for a few days. And then stuff started to happen. I noticed that I passed a church on my way to work everyday. Oak Hill United Methodist Church sounded fairly harmless. I decided to go. It was terrifying but it was good. I went for a while and I kept praying. And then the next step became clear. I needed to quit my job and go camping for a while. And oddly enough it was a part of that trip that led me back to Pennsylvania that led me back to Austin and really got things moving, but more on that next time! And then, I swear I will get back to the part about ordination!



The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 4

When we last left our caped crusader, he was precariously perched on the precipice of pandemonium. Well, not really...

I was working with my lay guide through a book called Ministry Inquiry Process. Before I move on to the next step I want to fill some more details of what was going on during this process. The process took several months. During these months, I experienced what was probably some of the most intense spiritual growth of my life. This all happened in the midst of some pretty intense activity in my life. I apologize in advance if I mess up some of these details. As the presidential primary has reminded us, sometimes we remember things as being a little different than they actually were.

So there I was, flying into Bosnia under heavy fire from artillery. Wait...

So there I was working through this book with my guide Sue, meeting about once a month. My spiritual hunger brought about by this experience and by my call in general caused me to exhaust most of the resources at the church I was baptized, so I went looking for another one. Not to replace the first one, but to supplement it.

I was searching around on the web (this was back in the day that not many churches had websites) and found that First United Methodist Church in downtown Austin had a Saturday night alternative service. They had their very own website with pictures and it looked really cool. So I went. And as God would have it, I met one of the most significant people in my spiritual journey: my friend Tina. If you don't know her, you will see her if you come to my ordination service. She will be one of the one's laying hands on me as the Bishop ordains me. She was interning at First UMC at the time and launching this new service.

We made an immediate connection, which may be less telling for her since she is all about connections, but it was something for me. I am getting chills as I am writing this because I have never really thought back to the enormous things that happened in God leading me to that Saturday evening worship service. Tina was there as I made my decisions about seminary. Tina was there as I decided to get married. Tina drove me to the hospital when I found out I was deadly allergic to ant bites. Tina performed the marriage ceremony for my wife Alisha and I. She sat next to me during Alisha's brain surgery. She helped me decide to transfer to seminary in Austin. Well, let me not bore you with every major event she was part of. (There are a lot more.) And don't let it seem like she was the only person who had an enormous impact of my journey. I could write whole books about Jen, Barbara, John, Mary Beth, Sandy, Alisha, Grant, Sharon, and on and on and on (sorry if I left you out, but there are more posts to come). The reason that I write about Tina at this point is that it was a fairly "random" decision that sent me to worship at her church. But for me, it was clearly a decision that affected my decision and ability to follow my call to ministry.

Calls to ministry, just like the other aspects of what God does in our lives are clearly built on relationship, intertwining interactions of God's people who are called together to be the church.

More soon!



The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 3

When we last left our hero, he was tragically stuck at the first roadblock of his journey toward ordination! Paragraph 311 of The United Methodist Book of Discipline, section 1 reads:

Those seeking to begin candidacy for licensed or ordained ministry: a)shall have been a professing member in good standing of The United Methodist Church for at least two years immediately preceding the application for candidacy; including a year of service in some form of congregational leadership, either in the local church or one agreed to by the district committee on ordained ministry, provided that in the case of an affiliate member, there has been a consultation with and approval by the charge conference of the home church.

So, since I was baptized in January of 2000, I had to wait until January of 2002 before I could start, which seemed like an insanely long time. As I was thinking through this timeline, I realized that I didn't really wait two years and suddenly worried that I must have cheated. It turns out, my District Superintendent at the time clarified that I could do one part of the process without waiting. So I became an inquiring candidate. To do this, I had to write a letter to the district superintendent and request a lay guide. I was assigned a wonderful guide, Sue, and we worked together through a book called, Ministry Inquiry Process. It is know affectionately as "The Purple Book" by those who have been through it. I have to say in reflection that this was one of the most rewarding processes I have ever been through. I took it pretty seriously and spent a lot of time with the guidebook, a lot of time praying and a lot of time reading the books that it suggested.

In thinking back about this, I have to wonder how I would react to someone so new to the church expressing a call to ministry. I would hope that I would embrace their call because I do believe that God calls people in a lot of different ways. But I hope I could encourage that person to take the process at least as seriously as I did. Although I felt certain of my call early on, I did not allow myself to breeze through the process as something to "get done." The months during which I completed this first phase were some of the most spiritually intense months of my life. I remember a bunch of late nights drinking coffee at Mozart's on the lake in Austin reading scripture and praying and trying to discern what God was doing with me.

More soon!



The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 2

Where was I? Oh yes, now I sort of remember...

Pastor John ordered me a copy of Christian as Minister. When it came in, I took it home and read it. I think one of the main purposes of the book is to make the point that all Christians are called to ministry and therefore feeling a calling doesn't necessarily mean one is called to full-time Christian vocation. However, after much thought and prayer, I decided I was indeed being called to full-time Christian vocation.

As a side, all this time I was following another piece of advice John have me which was to get more involved in the life of the church and see if I really found it interesting. So, I became a Sunday School Superintendent. (I took attendance, counted the offering and kept the kids out of the hall.) I also signed up for Disciple Bible Study. I was also in the choir and somewhere along the way, I was asked to be a Lay Leader.

I finally went back to John and expressed that I still felt called and I ran into my first official roadblock. It turns out one needs to be a United Methodist for at least two years before one can become what is called a Inquiring Candidate. So I waited...

More soon.



The Monumental Journey Towards Ordination - Volume 1

So I have decided to reflect on the all the things that have brought me to the eve or my ordination in June. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will count on any of my colleagues who read the blog to chime in with corrections or experiences that were different than mine. Here goes:

The very first thing someone is to do when they feel a call to ministry is go and talk to their pastor. Which raises the question, "How do you know if you are being called into ministry?" Good question. Everyone's experience seems to be different. I have friends who always knew they were supposed to be in full-time ministry. Others describe a pretty dramatic moment of revelation. For me, it was more similar to having some nagging discomfort that someone finally convinces you to go to the doctor about.

My first step was schedule a meeting with Pastor John. For me, it took a while to schedule this meeting. It is a little unnerving to go and tell someone you think God is calling you into full-time ministry. What if the person says, "No, I talked to God and you heard wrong."

This is especially an issue if the person feeling the call is fairly new to the Christian faith as I was. There tends to be a initial suspicion about people who are young in the faith that perhaps there call to ministry is just a strong feeling of the call that all baptized Christians are called to ministry of one sort or another.

Anyway, Pastor John did as he was supposed to and ordered me a copy of A Christian as Minister. Those who initial feel the call to ministry are to read this to learn a little bit about Christian vocation and all the different option that were available. Pastor John also spent a little time explaining what actually goes into the process of ordination. It sounded impossible and like it would take forever. It didn't take quite that long.

More next time.




As I begin my transition from Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi to University UMC (The U) in San Antonio, I am migrating to the new weblog. I am going to begin by reposting several entries from my previous weblog Feel free to check out that weblog for three years of previous posts!