Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How'd you get into the business?

In his book Have a Little Faith: A True Story, Mitch Albom asks his rabbi Albert Lewis this question: "How'd you get into the business?" How indeed? Tweaking this question a bit, how did we get to this point in our life and faith journey?

I don't have some kind of Pauline Damascus Road story of conversion. I was baptized as an infant and I've never known a time when I was not part of the Church - and that's the "capital C" Church universal. I certainly had my time of straying away in late high school and my college years. But in 1988, I moved to Maryland to be with my beloved husband. On the morning when I left my home and my parents, amid many tears, my mother said, "Find yourself a good church when you get to Maryland. The church will be your family when we are far apart." No truer or wiser words could have been said in that moment.

I joined All Saints Episcopal in Frederick when I arrived in Maryland. I'll be honest - the reason I chose them was because of the size of their ad in the Yellow Pages (remember, web sites weren't around then!). Having come from California where the churches are all large, this was the milieu in which I was most comfortable. I had a morbid fear that if I joined a small church, I'd be asked to run for vestry the minute I darkened the door. Yes, an unfounded prejudice, but I was only 24 years old so chalk it up to inexperience.

I spent 13 years at All Saints and in that time my husband was baptized and confirmed, I gave birth to two daughters (both of whom were baptized there), I served as an usher, assisted the altar guild, taught Sunday School (for middle schoolers, no less) and served a three year term on the vestry. But with the arrival of our daughters and a move west of the city, our lives changed and All Saints was no longer a fit with our schedules.

About that time, we started looking at other churches. OK, in fairness, we only looked at one - St. Mark's Lappans. After our second visit, our oldest daughter asked if we were "going to stay here forever." I told her forever was a long time, and she replied, "Well can we at least come back next week? We're in the Sunday School program." I thought that any church which could make room for my kids that quickly was where we needed to be. Case closed!

It was during my time at St. Mark's, a church much smaller than any I had ever attended, that God's call to priestly ministry became unavoidable. I had wrestled off and on with this call since I was 12, back when women could not even serve at the altar, let alone be ordained. In the end, God persisted and I surrendered. I had no idea how God would make this work ... I could not see a way forward.

Well, long story short ... God did make the way. It was the roundabout way which seems to be God's preference (Deuteronomy 2). I was ordained a deacon in June 2007 and a priest in February 2008. But ministry was roundabout too. My first call resulted in shepherding a congregation to a healthy closure, followed by an uncertain period of semi-employment as a supply priest, a short stint as an interim in an inner-city church, a year as a part-time visitation minister at Calvary United Methodist in Frederick, part-time assistant at St. Mark's, Lappans and then almost two years as a hospice chaplain ... before landing in my current call at Grace Episcopal in Brunswick, Maryland.

So, how'd I get into the business? God called and I questioned. God called and I reminded God of my inadequacy. God called and I tried a few lame excuses. God called and I said ... "OK, you got me."

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