Explore scripture. You’ll encounter many “characters” who lead the way, irritating their (attempting to be) God followers to the core. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time with the prophets exploring my call and living out my calling today as an Ordained Elder. Just yesterday, I told a staff member at the church I serve I was claiming the title Chief Agitator. Last year when I arrived, they wouldn’t put Faithful Irritant on my business cards, perhaps Chief Agitator was better? They didn’t think so. Discerning my call has been a journey. An irritating journey that captured me and wouldn’t let me go. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Discerning my call is best described as an awakening. God continues to call; in new, exciting, and transforming ways. At one time I understood my call as a bridge builder. The elements of a bridge builder are still present, but, today, that image seems a little serene for my understanding of Jesus and our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I get irritated by injustice, perplexed by discrimination, and agitated that our local churches have trouble living out our connectional nature for the good of the kingdom. I live for the moments where transformation happens. I love to celebrate with those exploring their calling. But, frankly, it requires me to be quite irritating at times.
So how did I discern my way? Check out Moses. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand God’s call for him. I didn’t either.
I was running too fast in the other direction. I was happy. I was in a fulfilling position at a state university working with new college students. Wondering out loud, “God, you want me to go back to school?” didn’t yield the answer I wanted. I was in school for 20 straight years. I said I was done. God said something else.
I stuck my big toe into the water and explored one class at United Theological Seminary. If I was enjoying a History of Christianity class, God had to be in it. I had never enjoyed, been challenged, desired to learn history. In general, history had bored me to tears most of my life. This class was different. I explored the early church and the role women played in establishing the first house churches. As I began to see that women had a unique role to play in leading the church and my desire to serve in the local church outweighed my love of college life, I knew God was up to something.
Ordained Deacon, perhaps? Then I could control where I served and wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of a bishop. Give me a little grace, this was all new to me. I meant no disrespect. But, for goodness sake, I was fully capable of finding my own place to serve.
On one summer afternoon, in the midst of a busy freshman orientation season, I walked into my supervisor’s office and declared to him I was quitting. I gave one month’s notice, took a month’s vacation, had a month’s severance pay due to accumulated vacation days. I had no resume. A half-baked plan of action and the security of knowing my parent’s had an extra room upstairs at their home. I prayed more about not having to move back to my parent’s home than I did for direction from God in the next steps.
Grace opened doors to five interviews, three of which offered me positions as a Youth Director-in less than one month. I never got a vacation. What?! Now I had something else to discern. I followed what I thought was my gut. It was the Spirit leading me into a wild adventure of youth ministry.
The teens and their families, along with the congregation helped me understand my call, explore my faith at new depths, and tested my pastoral leadership. The journey was unfolding. When I was finally ready to go to Local Pastor’s School, I remember praying on the drive to the host site, “God, I believe, help my unbelief.” I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. Someone told me it was the next step. I reluctantly went.
What I knew was this: from the day of my baptism (I was baptized as an adult) when my pastor and friend (and the same guy who was my supervisor who graciously accepted my resignation), I was showered in God’s grace-literally soaked from what appeared a simple sprinkling of water. When he turned an invited me to serve Holy Communion with him, the game was over. God wasn’t letting me out of this without a serious change. I ran from the Table and the Font for more years than I am willing to admit.
When Local Pastor’s School finished and I left for an almost three week immersion experience in South Africa, the person who left Suburban Cincinnati did not return. I didn’t come back the same person. There on the dirt floor of one of the informal settlements outside of Durban, South Africa, where orphans ran the “streets” and open sewers ran at my feet, I understood what John Wesley meant when he said, “my heart was strangely warmed”. I will always remember looking at my professor as they were getting in the car, saying to him, “I am not leaving.” I didn’t want to get in the car. I didn’t understand the depths of the simple words I spoke. What I did understand was I had experienced the holiest communion over simple nutritional taffy than I had ever experienced with the cup and loaf.
You can’t run from Elder’s Orders when the sacraments claim you. Whatever the process entailed, I knew the Israelites wandered for forty years, surely the ordination process wouldn’t be that long!
The journey of discernment continued as I completed seminary, worked my way through the ordination process, and knelt before the Bishop last summer. Next to the day I was baptized, I can’t remember a time when I felt more loved by God. As Bishop Ough and Bishop Job laid hands on me, as my District Superintendent, friend and colleague who baptized me, and family and colleagues surrounded me from afar, my call was affirmed, claimed, and sealed.
Today, God’s inviting me to discern all that goes into a new worship service, inviting me to be present to God’s ways in the midst of the ways of the world. God’s inviting me to discern the call to a city in need of transformation, a people looking for a glimmer of grace, and a world that seems to be moving at rapid fire pace. God’s nudging me to reach people who don’t have a church home, to help renew our denomination, to build relationships with others to make God’s grace real in the city.
So, yes, God continues to call. And I continue to return each morning to chair in the corner of my living room. Bible in hand, journal on my lap, I am ready to encounter God in scripture, to pray for God’s direction. Most of all, I return to that place and I remember my baptism. It’s a call that claims all of us; a call that humbles me each day, reminding me of the great privilege of serving, leading, and yes, irritating the church.