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 920.266.9262. I look forward to hearing from y’all!
Discernment Process, Part 3
So I had come to the realization that I had to go back to Fr. Rob, the priest with whom I had initially began exploring a possible call to holy orders years ago, and tell him that I believed I needed to re-enter into the discernment process in The Episcopal Church. But by now, it had been a couple of years since I’d been active in church at all, much less actively pursuing a call to ministry. What was he likely to think? How genuine could my call be, if it apparently fluctuated like that? What did it say of me, that I had stepped away from the process once before?
There were further, more pragmatic complications, as well. Anne and I were planning at that time to be in South Carolina for perhaps another year, and not much beyond that. What would Rob, or the church, for that matter, think about the prospect of beginning the process anew when I might not be around for the long haul? Yes, I had rediscovered my sense of call. I was afraid, however, that I might already have missed my window of opportunity.
I was hesitant, therefore, even to attempt to begin the process again there, in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Anne and I were seriously considering the possibility of moving back to Georgia in order that I might attend graduate school; as I spoke with my father about that possibility, and about my concerns about restarting the discernment process, he recommended that I contact Bishop Louttit of the Diocese of Georgia.
My parents had moved back to south Georgia, and they had been sharing with me stories of the innovative ways Bishop Louttit had been addressing the shortage of priests in his diocese. They thought he might have some insight as to how I might best proceed. Indeed, Bishop Louttit spoke with me (a complete stranger to him) for an hour when I called, and he was kind enough to refer me to one of his diocesan Discernment Committees, one based in Augusta, which wasn’t too far from where we were in South Carolina.
Under Bishop Louttit’s direction, the Diocese of Georgia had created regional standing committees to be the first step for aspirants (those who wonder if they might be called to holy orders) in their discernment processes. The aspirant would meet with a regional committee (made up of clergy and laity from several parishes within the diocese) once a month for six months. At the end of that time, the committee members make a recommendation to the aspirant’s home parish based on their perception of the person’s path and vocation. Although I was not coming from a parish within the diocese, Bishop Louttit offered to put me in touch with the Augusta Committee so that I might come to a clearer understanding of the path to which God was calling me before Anne and I picked up and moved to Georgia.
This opportunity seemed like a Godsend. I was extremely grateful for the chance to explore God’s calling in a structured environment and for the chance to have help gaining clarity after my earlier experiences. I must stress, however, that what led me to that exploration with a group in Augusta, as opposed to seeking it in my home parish, was the near certainty that Anne and I would be moving out of that parish, and out of the diocese, in comparatively short order. Anne had applied the previous year for a job in Asheville, but it seemed unlikely that funding for the position would be available, and we were each becoming less and less satisfied with our current job situations in South Carolina. We needed a change, and it looked like that would mean a move to a new locale.
It would, perhaps, have made more sense to wait until we had moved and joined a new parish to take on such work again, but despite the uncertainty regarding where we were going to end up, I felt a sense of urgency to proceed with discernment. When my sense of being called (to something) flared back to life, it did so intensely. I had reached a point where I couldn’t really make long term plans with my wife for our future together without a better understanding of what role(s) I would be called to play.
In that light, I entered into working with the Augusta Discernment Committee with the specific goal of discerning whether my primary path of service ought to be academic or ministerial. I realized that the two were not only not mutually exclusive, but often interdependent; I felt driven to discover, however, whether I could be of better service as an academic who also does ministry, or as a minister with an academic background.
When I began meeting with the Augusta committee, I suspected that I would end up leaning towards a primarily academic vocation, one which I thought would likely include some aspects of lay ministry. But as I moved more deeply into exploring the questions put to me by the committee, it became clearer and clearer to me that where I wanted to be, that where I needed to be, was in Christ’s Church, helping to administer His Sacraments—in other words, I began to realize that the academic gifts I’d been given and experiences I’d had would only be put to their best and highest use in service to God’s people through His Church. I felt called to be directly involved with people’s lives, on a more holistic basis than I had experienced as a college teacher. And parish life is full of very real opportunities for teaching and learning, after all, and that’s also where opportunities for healing, grace, reconciliation, and transformation are likely to be experienced, much more directly so than in any academic classroom that I had yet be part of.
I was coming to another point of clarity on the road to ordination. But, as is often the case in the fullness of God’s time, there was yet another twist coming …
To be continued…
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