My dear friends in Christ,
Here is the next installment of my Spiritual Autobiography. As I mentioned in the introduction to Part 1, I’m sharing these details of my spiritual journey from childhood to priesthood and to All Saints Episcopal Church not (with all due respect to Walt Whitman) to celebrate myself, but in an attempt to begin (at least) to make up for time lost to the Covid-19 pandemic, time we would otherwise have been able to spend getting to know each other and building the close relationships that are so important to the life and health of a thriving parish. If anything here sparks your interest, if you have questions, or if you’d just like to connect and talk about something else entirely, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 920.266.9262. I look forward to hearing from y’all!
Discernment Process, Part 4
During the course of my work with the Augusta Committee, Anne received word that funding had indeed come through for the job in Asheville she’d applied for many months before. At that point, there was no way we’d be moving to Georgia, and I realized that I’d have to cut my time with the Augusta Committee short. I was anxious about how that conversation was going to go; this group had, after all, invested quite a bit of effort into my discernment. Yet, when I informed the committee of the change in my circumstances (at our third meeting) they offered to complete my full six-meeting rotation “as our free gift to you,” in the words of a priest on the committee. I was not only grateful for that, but also quite humbled. Not only was I moving towards clarity in my work with this committee, but I was also being rejuvenated and restored, as well. I hadn’t realized how deeply I’d been wounded by some of my previous experiences with discernment until I was confronted with such positive, nurturing experiences as I was then having. And by the time I finished the six-month period, I once again felt the kind of clarity I’d first felt back in 2001.
However, there were some important differences this time around. I realized, in hindsight, that seven years previously, without being aware of it, I had made it my primary goal to get into seminary. I had looked at my time in Spartanburg as a sort of a temporary stopover on the way to seminary. And when things didn’t fall into place as quickly as I thought they should have, I hadn’t been quite sure what to do. But coming out of my work with the Augusta Committee, I had developed a different goal—by this point, I simply wanted to serve. Were I to re-enter the formal discernment process, I knew it would be without the preconceived notions I’d brought with me the first time. And perhaps, given that difference, the process this time might not only be much less painful, but possibly even downright joyful.
Coming out of that experience in Augusta, I felt convicted that I needed to begin the formal discernment process within a parish once again, and as soon as that thought struck me, I also realized that I needed to enter that process at my home parish of St. Matthew’s. Stepping outside of that environment for a few months of discernment had made it abundantly clear what a true spiritual home St. Matthew’s had been to me, and for me. The thought of walking away from the support, the friendship ~ the family ~ that I had there in order to discern my vocation in some other parish had now become unimaginable. That is why I came back to Fr. Rob in 2010 and asked him if we could meet and begin talking about discernment, vocation, and priesthood again—and that was no easy thing to do, after so many years. But it was something I knew that I had to do, that I was compelled to do. As I only vaguely understood when I was thirteen, it was something that’s bigger than any one person; it is certainly bigger than I.
That is what led me to the St. Matthew’s discernment committee in 2010. It was a very affirming and uplifting time, returning to the work of discernment “at home,” so to speak, and I was grateful for the opportunity to share that part of my spiritual journey with my family at St. Matthew’s. I was doubly grateful for that support when, in October of that year, our first child was born.
From my time with the St. Matthew’s committee, my discernment was much more focused than it had been previously, and for the first time, one step on the journey finally seemed to lead to a next step, and a next step. After being approved by the committee to continue discerning at the diocesan level, I was invited to take a biblical literacy exam and to participate in a newly developed internship program for those discerning a call to ordination, and that placed me in another parish for the summer (of 2012), where I was required not only to design, but also to implement, an entirely new ministry for St. James Episcopal Church in Greenville, SC.
Following the internship, which my supervising priest considered to be successful despite several challenges, I would have moved to the next step of meeting for three to four months with a pair of mentors selected from the Commission on Ministry, except that I had not completed the 600 pages of diocesan paperwork, including a required psychological screening, by the end of the summer internship. Somehow, I had mistakenly thought I wasn’t supposed to begin the paperwork until after the internship had concluded. Suddenly, and very unexpectedly, I found myself horribly “behind” in my process. I was told that I needed to get the paperwork done as quickly as possible to continue the process, but that if I did so, the delay shouldn’t hurt me to badly. Unfortunately, time and circumstance made doing so not only difficult, but temporarily impossible.
By October, 2012, when I received the news about my paperwork, I was nearing the end of that fall semester’s teaching load—classes were wrapping up and I had final grading to do. It looked like I’d be able to get the paperwork completed and sent off by November without too much difficulty. But that is exactly when a herniated disk in my lower back began to press into my sciatic nerve, effectively crippling me for the next three months. After many medications, many chiropractic adjustments, and many doctor visits, I had to accept that I needed surgery to correct the problem. I scheduled the procedure for January 30, 2013, which was the soonest I could have it done.
Meanwhile, our second child was born three days ahead of schedule on the evening of Christmas Day. It was an extremely joyous and extremely stressful time, as I was still crippled and Anne was suddenly forced to become a single parent with double the number of children under her care (triple, if you include me in the count!). The situation was only marginally better after the surgery, as I was now facing a fairly lengthy recovery, with regular doses of heavy medication and a number of restrictions that rendered me unable to be much help with the children. I was forbidden, for example, to lift more than about five pounds’ weight.
Just as bad, I found myself unable to concentrate clearly enough to work on the long-overdue paperwork for the diocese, as the medications kept me in a constant state of light-headedness. Time seemed determined to continue speeding onward, yet I seemed to be losing any and all momentum in terms of moving my process of discernment forward. My discernment process felt like a shambles. How was I to get back on track?
To be continued...