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!
Call Story, Pt. 3
By the time I was in graduate school (at Southern Illinois University) in my late twenties, I believed I had managed to get a pretty fair idea of what I, personally, believed, and that I had nurtured a healthy and productive relationship with Christ Jesus on my own, independent of any formal worship or of any formal institution. Not really having experienced such a thing for myself at that point, I had little concept of a “faith community,” much less a “church family.” The irony, therefore, of nurturing a healthy and productive relationship with Christ Jesus in the absence of the covenant community was quite lost on my younger self.
Having spent so many years “on my own,” I took it as given that my particular beliefs, understandings, and perspectives would never fit in within the mainstream Church. Of course, I hadn’t stopped to examine that assumption, or even to realize it was in fact an assumption—not until I had been in grad school for almost two years (of a three year program). Coming back into town after visiting a friend for the weekend, it struck me (“out of the blue,” as it were) that in all the time I’d been in school in Carbondale, I’d never set foot inside the local Episcopal church. The particular thought that hit me, riding back on the train, was that I had no clue what the inside of the local church looked like. On a whim (or so it felt at the time), I resolved to get up the next morning and go to the Sunday service there.
That proved to be another pivotal choice. Once I got involved at St. Andrew’s, I quickly experienced a series of revelations. No more visions or anything like that; these were much more mundane realizations, yet their impact upon me was nearly as profound. To put these realizations into perspective, let me jump back in time for just a moment. I had been taught from an early age, being brought up in the Church, that God is everywhere, in all things, and so I’ve always felt that connection on a personal level, as I’ve described. But I also grew up with the notion that priests, as the official servants of God’s Church, were somehow different from regular, normal folk—that they were in some strange way not “real” people. So for all the years I spent pursuing the spiritual quest that I’d begun at age 13, it was possible for me to admire the priesthood as an institution, and the individual priests who served the churches I’d attended, all the while thinking, “It would be wonderful to serve God in that way … but those people aren’t like me. And I’m certainly not like that. Not like them.”
Several things happened toward the end of my studies in Illinois to alter that belief. First, I began to meet—as an adult—actual members of the clergy, as well as people preparing for or already in seminary. I kept thinking, “But wait, these people seem to be exactly like me.” It was unnerving at first, to say the least. At the same time, I was realizing that, though I was about to complete my master’s degree (and thus be qualified to begin a career in college teaching), I had yet to find a direction or purpose in life that truly commanded my conviction. Teaching was something that I could do, but I was not at all sure that it was something I should do. I felt compelled to seek a vocation that would make the best use of my life, for the greatest good. Additionally, through working with the priest in Carbondale and through attending various Province V and national conventions, I had come to see that the personal beliefs and perspectives which I thought I had hammered out for myself in isolation were, in many cases, perfectly in-sync with where the contemporary Church stood.
I also started noticing a lot of little things, which collectively seemed to point in a particular direction. Sometimes, it was a subtle as a line in a book that leapt off the page—“Who, in this modern day and age, will once again take up the Mysteries of Christianity?” one author asked, seemingly of me, personally. At least once, though, it was really on the nose. I’d worn a black, circle-necked shirt to church one Sunday (because I didn’t like wearing neckties), and at the peace, Father Isaac came over, shook my hand, and told me “We need to get you a collar to go with that!” I hadn’t even known the man for a month, and I’d not yet spoken to him of any feelings of vocation. And for his part, he was I’m sure just joking around with a parishioner. But still. In the context of my life at that point, the moment stood out like a shout in a silent room. How did he know?
Thus, having lost my best excuses for not seriously considering the priesthood, I realized that if I didn’t explore that possibility in earnest, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
To be continued…