All right, it’s time for some real talk. One of my (many) reasons for deciding to commit to a year of service in Denver was to provide myself with some breathing room, some extra time, and a safe space for some much needed soul searching and discernment. Well, like it or not, that’s exactly what I got. After exploring every vocational path on which I could ever envision myself, here I am, six and a half months later, having officially accepted a place as a Master of Divinity student at Luther Seminary. After the countless number of times in the past couple of years that people have suggested I consider seminary, and after the countless number of times I ever so politely responded with some version of, “Ha. Absolutely not,” this admission does not come without expense to my pride (and stubbornness.)
So why turn this into something as public as a blog post? Maybe it is a longing to share my story with a community that I love and to find the sacred places, both tangible and intangible, in which my story intersects with your story and in so doing find the ways in which we can best accompany and support each other. Maybe it is a plea to all of you reading this to help me remember this story in the years to come, to help me remember the beauty of calling in the midst of future struggles, dry spells, and afternoons when I simply don’t want to do my homework. Maybe it is part of a much needed and probably overdue thank you to all of the wonderful souls who have ever so patiently (and incessantly) urged me to think about seminary, about ministry, about this whole crazy concept of call and vocation. Whatever the reason, here it is: an abridged version of a call story, of the insights acquired over the last six-ish months, and a glimpse into my own messy process of discernment. In short, (ready for it?), some of the reasons I have finally accepted that I need (and dare I say it—maybe even actually want) to be a pastor.
The possibility of doing some type of public ministry has been on my radar for years. However, I had some hesitations from the beginning. I had the grades to do whatever I wanted – Doctor? Lawyer? Big shot psychologist? “Just put your mind to it; set your goals high,” people encouraged. I also was born with an intense desire to achieve, to prove to myself that I can tackle whatever challenges lie ahead. Being a pastor was never part of the plan. It didn’t fit into my far too limited definition of “success,” and didn’t seem to hold up to the expectations people had for me. However, in college as I was grappling with these very questions about a major and a future career, I ended up falling in love with a beautiful group of people who were also authentically searching and questioning their own calls in this world, who also happened to be passionate about their faith and this Love that seemed to be so much bigger than any of us could comprehend, and who accepted me unconditionally for who I was and who we all are—beautifully imperfect children of God. It was from among this group of “campus ministry stars,” as well as from the undying love and support from my outdoor ministry community, that what we Lutherans refer to as “the external call” began to rise to a level that was hard to ignore. (But, for the record, I would just like to say I did a good job of pretending to ignore it anyway.)
So, then, I did what any level-headed human being desperately running from The Call would do. I headed for the mountains of Colorado. Urban Servant Corps has proven to be an incredibly formative, beautiful, challenging experience in a million different ways. I have learned more about the realities of social injustices in inner city Denver than I ever could in a college classroom. I found a community people excited talking about the intersections between a life of faith and service, about the future of the church, about the concept of vocation. In the midst of this same community I learned to deeply value the perspectives of people with faith journeys radically different than my own. I found a group of people willing to accompany me as I explored what seemed like a million ways I could live out a life of faith and a passion for social justice. I tried on the role of social worker, psychologist, and teacher; I looked into graduate programs for anything and everything that seemed to somehow fit under the broad umbrella of social justice. And finally I conceded to the fact that none of these options seemed to fully fit. I wanted to be all of them and none of them. I needed an outlet to openly explore my faith and the faith of others, I craved the company of the worshiping communities I left behind, and I missed the nearly daily opportunities I had at Concordia and at Shetek to explore openly what it meant to be a faith leader. In short, I longed for the freedom to fully embrace this call I had long since detected but hesitated to accept.
So, like any level-headed human being still kind of running from The Call, I applied to seminary under the condition that I would be pursuing a Master of Arts degree and would be staying as far away from an M. Div as possible. I had accepted the fact that I needed to be doing faith related work, but there was (and still is) something about the title of “Pastor” that just really freaked me out. But I had one little problem (okay maybe lots of them, but one in particular): I couldn’t shake this weird fascination I had developed with the Eucharist. Seriously. Something about this act of Holy Communion, the beautiful simplicity that somehow melts into layers of complexity of the breaking of the bread and the sharing of wine. This powerful, tangible interaction with our God, this somehow unfathomable act in which we taste true grace and unconditional love and receive nourishment for the spirit. Whether the Body of Christ comes in the form of a dry wafer, a fresh loaf, or a stale Urban Servant Corps bagel, whether the Blood comes to us through grape juice, Mogen David, or 7-Up (it’s happened…), holy community is created and for a second, even just a moment, we are brought to a sacred place together.
And then I started to see Communion everywhere. In her book Take This Bread, Sara Miles writes beautifully about her pursuit to live out the Eucharist as she opens food pantries in San Francisco. By sharing her narrative, she challenges readers to live out the Eucharist through acts of social justice, by feeding real people, by cultivating real community, by actually daring to love our neighbors as ourselves. I started to see Holy Communion and holy community taking place at the shelter where I work, in the midst of the beauty and messiness of intentional community in my home, and in the ongoing conversations and relationships that have sustained me from afar. The more I began to think about and analyze this long-held tradition, this simple act of Communion, the more in awe I became. And the more I knew that I needed to somehow be a part of it in a deeper way. I recognized a longing to invite others in, to offer the same sense of wholeness I myself have received, to accompany others into the sacredness, into this place where our God never fails to meet us, time after time.
And that pretty much takes us to the moment when in slow, careful letters I wrote “M. Div.” next to the “Intended Degree” line on my letter of intent to Luther. (Actually there’s a lot more to the story, but we’ll have to sit down over a cup of coffee if you want to delve deeper.) Am I excited? Yes. Am I absolutely terrified? Yes. But the one thing I know for sure is that the peace I have felt since that moment has been absolutely overwhelming. And for that, all I can say is, “Thanks be to God.”