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 email@example.com, or at 920.266.9262. I look forward to hearing from y’all!
Discernment Process, Part 1
And that is where the matter stood when I arrived in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the fall of 1999. Some important things happened at that point: I became active in a parish, participating in its Canterbury young adult ministry from my first weeks here. In the summer of 2000, I traveled (as one of several adult chaperones) with the church’s youth to the village of White Horse, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, for my first mission trip. I attended meetings of the Committee on Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, including a planning session for the annual Cross-Roads gathering. For two years, I taught Rite Thirteen Sunday School. All of these activities gave me insight into the meaning of living a life of service, and all of them strengthened my sense of purpose and calling to ministry.
In early 2001, after participating in a workshop facilitated by Fr. Rob Brown (then the associate rector of the church I’d been attending since coming to Spartanburg) entitled “The Voice of the Lord’s Invitation,” all of these experiences came together for me. The workshop focused not on directions or end-goals for our lives, but rather on discovering what gifts we have been given by the grace of God and by virtue of being who we are. Doing that showed me what choices I’d already been making, subconsciously at least, about which priorities were most important to me in my life. And I began clearly to see a distinct pattern, a definite direction that my life had been taking up to that point—sometimes in spite of myself.
That direction was one of ever deeper, ever more profound encounter with the mystery of the Christ. A close friend of mine once told me he respected the fact that I was willing to ask spiritual questions that made him too uncomfortable, that he himself would never ask. The comment surprised me, because I hadn’t realized until then that it wasn’t something I was willing to do at all; it was something that, being who I am, I have to do. As I had grown closer to Christ, through my searching and questioning, and through my life experiences, I felt a growing need to share what I felt, what I’d seen, what I’d experienced firsthand, with others. Helping others, if possible, to approach and move into that mystical encounter with Christ Jesus, or merely proclaiming the very potential of such an encounter (that it is something that can actually, really happen!), was something that I not only felt called to do; it was something that—having now examined closely the details of my life up to that moment—I had apparently already been doing, for as far back as I could recall.
That is what led me, in the spring of 2001, to feel called to seek Holy Orders. I was at the point of making a conscious choice: to make the seemingly random patterns that led me to that moment in my life an active part of my awareness and daily activity. To do intentionally and consciously what I had been doing automatically and unconsciously. It became clear to me that whatever gifts I’d been given in life had been entrusted to me by God for the work of bringing about God’s Kingdom in the world. I felt that, in order to develop these blessings to their fullest extent and to use them for the greatest good and the highest purpose, I would need the training, community, structure, and—eventually—the authority that comes with seminary and ordination.
To that end, I became even more actively involved at my church than I had been up to that point. I became a lay reader and chalice bearer, so that I could participate more fully in the liturgy and especially the Eucharist; I offered my abilities as a musician, playing guitar for contemporary evening worship services. I directed a “reader’s theatre” production of the play Christ in the Concrete City as both a Lenten reflection (for the actors) and as an Easter celebration (the performance) for the parish. Over a period of roughly two months, I co-presented, with the Rev. Marilyn Sanders, an adult education class/Bible study/workshop the purpose of which was to bring together parishioners of varying viewpoints and opinions (in the wake of the confirmation of Bishop Robinson) to discuss issues of sexuality within the Church from cultural, anthropological, theological, and Scriptural perspectives (this parish, at the time, was deeply divided, as were so many parishes, and indeed the national Church itself, over such issues).
Despite all of that activity, however, my own discernment process never seemed to move forward. I met with the church’s Vestry; I participated in a six-month workshop, meeting with a committee of Vestry members and lay folk to explore the various canons of ministry. I met regularly with the rector, Fr. Clay Turner, but in spite of his strong support, the process seemed to stall out. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what was going on. To this day, I’m sure I do not have the whole picture. I did discover, however, in later years that this particular church has in its history only rarely sent anyone to seminary, even though it is one of the largest churches in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and one of the most blessed in terms of people, education, and resources. Eventually, I became not so much disillusioned, but frustrated and more than a little confused about God’s plan for me. After having felt like I’d finally achieved such clarity about my calling in 2001, by the time it got to be 2004 and no further progress had occurred (at least from my point of view), I believed I needed to reconsider some things.
To be continued...