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 5
December of 2012 saw the birth of our second child. It was an extremely joyous and extremely stressful time, as I went in for back surgery in January of 2013 and was looking at a long recovery, 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 my 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?
I started back to work teaching at the end of the spring semester, in March of 2013. Adjusting to the workload post-surgery was not easy, and it was April of that year before I finally got all of the necessary forms, tests, applications, explications, and documentation completed and submitted to the diocesan office in Columbia. With my profuse apologies for the delays included.
Over the summer, I had a follow-up meeting with the Commission on Ministry that, in hindsight, did not go nearly as well as I’d hoped—or as I had thought it did at the time. The impressions of the committee members seemed, from the feedback I later received, quite different from the impressions I had thought I was giving off during the meeting. In the moment, I thought things had gone well enough, but the committee later expressed several concerns regarding my possible call to ministry. However, the committee decided to address these concerns by having me meet with two mentors from the committee over a period of a few months, which is where my process stood in September of 2013.
Though the meetings with the two mentors were apparently quite successful both in their opinions and in mine—the experience was, in fact, quite spiritually affirming and uplifting to me—the overall Committee recommended against granting me Postulancy in early 2014. But at the suggestion of the co-chair of the Commission on Ministry, I scheduled a meeting with Bishop Waldo anyway to discuss what possibilities existed for my continued discernment. He shared the commission’s concerns that I needed to find a way to view organization and administration not as “necessary evils” but rather as part and parcel of a pastoral call, and he assigned me an essay to write that would require me to explore ways in which I could trigger that shift in my understanding. I eagerly complied, and after he reviewed what I had submitted, Bishop Waldo granted me Postulancy at the end of March of that year. After a mad scramble at that late date to get accepted to their program, I enrolled in The School of Theology at the University of the South in the fall of 2014.
I graduated in May of 2017 and was ordained to the diaconate on 17 June of that year, not quite three weeks after beginning my first call as Assistant to the Rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish in Clemson, SC. On 1 February 2018, I was made a priest in God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—some twenty years since I first found the courage during graduate school to mention to the priest at the small Episcopal church in Carbondale that I wondered if I might be called to be a priest. In some ways, my ordination to the priesthood marked the end of my discernment process … but in a larger (more accurate) sense, what happened at that point was that the nature of discernment changed. I had been initiated into the life to which God had called me. For all that it had taken for me to get to that point, it was in truth only the beginning…