Thursday, March 26, 2020

Unabated Vocation

When I left the full-time ministry in 2005, following a mission career cut short by financial reality, a horrendously bad experience serving a deeply dysfunctional congregation, and the sudden and unexpected death of my father, I thought I was done for good. I intended to — at most — help out at a church as a member, laying low and finding my way into some different career. I tried to get out, but I kept getting drawn back in. 

The little Portuguese-language church my family joined in Newark, NJ needed leaders, and I took a turn on the monthly rotation preaching. I also led occasional Bible studies, helped baptize a family, and sometimes taught the youth. That church burned me as well, pushing me to lead, and then falling back when a couple of church members were unhappy they weren't getting their way, and took it out on me. 

Through all this I held onto my faith, even as I sorted through my understanding of what that meant. Eventually I had to face the fact that most of it made no sense, not correlating to reality. 

And still, that sense of call persisted. 

It began most clearly when I was a young Catholic teenager, hearing a missionary priest speak on Vocations Sunday. Through my teens I struggled with depression, not realizing that's what I was up against, and explored Catholic teachings alongside those of Protestants and of various world religions and alternative forms of spirituality. I became evangelical under my own initiative, finding a sense of purpose and belonging. The call seemed stronger than ever before.  

It has followed me through my life, from country churches to the mission field and through the dissolution of my former worldview and the construction of a new one. From Catholic to Presbyterian to Stone-Campbell Movement and now Unitarian Universalist, it is here with me. It isn't so much a calling from on high, though for most of my life I saw it as such. Instead, it's more of an imperative of my own nature, personality, and identity. 

After years of seeking to sort out how to proceed, I've decided that concrete steps need to be taken to move discernment forward. And so, I'm pleased to say that I've been accepted to Abilene Christine University's Graduate School of Theology for Spring 2021. I'll study over the course of 4 years for a Master of Divinity, through a combination of online learning and week-long intensives on campus. Additionally, I've been accepted to Starr King School for the Ministry to study for a Certificate in Unitarian Universalist Studies, something that should fulfill one of the other requirements for fellowship as a Unitarian Universalist minister. 

This may seem like a strange combination, but I believe it will work for me. After reviewing numerous seminary programs, I found that what ACU GST offers is the most in line with the expectations I've formed for MDiv study. Further, SKSM is a UU seminary with a solid offering in UU-specific coursework around history, polity, and theology. With these two, along with the other required steps for fellowship, I believe that I'll either be confirmed in my calling to ordained ministry and be better prepared than ever, or else will learn that my calling is best fulfilled in some other way. 

In the meantime, I'm thankful for the opportunity that my home congregation, Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, NJ, offers for people to serve as lay leaders. This together with their support in my time of active discernment will surely make all the difference.