One of the worst aspects of these past fourteen months of pandemic shutdown has been that you and I, the parish and your new rector, have been essentially robbed of a year’s worth of time we would otherwise have been able to spend actually getting to know each other. My dear friends in Christ, I have agonized over that fact. And while it’s true that we are finally beginning to be able to open back up, at least a little bit, we are still a ways off from being free to come together for face-to-face fellowship, the telling of tales, the swapping of memories—not to mention the sharing of meals—that are so deeply part of what makes a parish feel like a family. So I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about it, in the meanwhile of waiting for Covid numbers to decrease and Covid restrictions to relax a bit further.
I don’t know if it will be helpful at all, but it occurred to me that, although I might not be able to get out there and get to know all of you as I would like to yet, perhaps I can give y’all a chance to get to know me a little better. I thought, what would happen if I shared with you my Spiritual Autobiography? When folks are discerning a possible call to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, they are required to compose and share their “spiritual autobiographies”—accounts of their lives with particular emphasis on the events and experiences that were spiritually significant, that were formative, that led to the conviction that God was calling them to the diaconate or to the priesthood. So my Spiritual Autobiography is, in many ways, the story of how I came to be here with you, serving you as your priest.
Under normal circumstances, I would no doubt have ended up sharing much of this information with you informally, chatting during coffee hour or in conversation at various church functions, or perhaps even over coffee or a shared meal in small groups. And I still very much hope that we can do all those things together! But as an experiment, while we wait for the pandemic to be enough under control that we can resume gathering freely like that, here is the first excerpt from my formal Spiritual Autobiography, for anyone who might be curious. 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, and let’s talk!
Call Story, pt. 1
My “official” spiritual journey—at least in terms of my conscious awareness of being on such a journey, and of the fact that I was taking deliberate steps on that journey—began when I was 13 years old. I remember clearly a particular Sunday School class, taught by a nice lady who was actually younger then than I am now, which served as a catalyst in my spiritual life. That morning’s lesson was a pre-printed tract which attempted to “prove” by means of the mathematics of probability that life simply couldn’t have evolved on the Earth, as the scientists claim.
At that point in my life, I was very much what my friends at school would call a “nerd.” I had watched hundreds, perhaps thousands, of nature documentaries on Public Television and had spent countless hours poring over whatever scientific information I could find on dinosaurs and related subjects. I also had very little patience with anything that I, in my 13-year-old “wisdom,” deemed silly. So I really couldn’t help myself when confronted with that lesson. I felt compelled to raise my hand and point out that the infinitesimal percentage that the lesson plan indicated was the chance that life actually evolved on our planet was nothing of the kind; rather, I informed the class, that was the percentage chance of the exact same pattern of evolutionary development happening again on some other planet, exactly the same way it had on Earth.
I remember being aware on some level, even at the time, that the lesson plan was not written by our Sunday School teacher, that she was just presenting the curriculum she’d been given to present. But I also remember how important it seemed to me that the truth be spoken and understood. It was something that was bigger than anyone’s personal opinion, including mine.
As soon as my family made it back home after church that morning, I informed my parents that I would not be attending Sunday School any longer. My father was particularly displeased; I can still hear his voice as he told me, very calmly, that he had a problem with the notion that my formal religious education was to end at age 13. I did too, I replied. It was just that I felt pretty certain that I wasn’t going to receive any real education in that class.
In hindsight, all these years later, it seems odd to me that I never once had any intention of walking away from the Church. Nor, as I tried to explain to my father, was I shying away from religious education. If anything, I felt compelled to seek out such education. What had been presented in that Sunday School class made no sense, and something deep within me told me that not only should things make sense, but that, somehow, some way, they actually do.
It was about that same time period in my life when I noticed that many of my friends at school were not just rejecting the religious practices of their parents, but also often rejecting religion itself outright. “I don’t let my parents force me to go to church anymore,” I remember hearing, and “I’m not going to be a hypocrite like that.”
In light of my own experience, I realized that what I’d been doing for 13 years was essentially just going through the motions, imitating what I’d been exposed to. I knew all of the liturgy by heart … but it occurred to me then that I had no real understanding of what any of it meant. I concluded that I needed either to quit being a hypocrite myself and stop attending services I didn’t really understand, or I needed to figure out exactly what it was I did believe, and (perhaps more importantly) why. As I mentioned above, leaving the Church never seemed like a serious option to me; I felt strongly (even if I had no idea why) that I belonged there, somehow. So at 13 I set out to find some way to understand the tenets of the faith in which I’d been raised.
To be continued…