Friday, May 08, 2009

The Story of My Life (or At Least Part of It!): Part Two

And it continues . . .

The first intimations that perhaps a life of ministry was beckoning came while studying at Acadia. On one occasion, when visiting my mother on the Miramichi, her priest (she was still a practicing Catholic then but is now a member at Union Street Baptist in St. Stephen) invited me over for a visit after hearing I was studying theology at Acadia. Having accepted the invitation I hadn’t anticipated that the Bishop of the diocese would also be there. After some initially awkward small-talk, I was asked the big question: Have you ever considered becoming a priest? My answer was a resounding but polite no. That sort of stopped the conversation in its tracks. In the end it felt like they were less interested in me than they were in finding someone to join their ranks. My reason for saying no at this point was that I hoped to marry someday and certainly didn’t feel a call to ministry (at least not of that sort!).

That being said, at Acadia I did for a time consider teaching in an overseas missions context. Looking back, I recall being in contact with a couple of organizations but I don’t recall why such explorations fizzled. Still, many of my classmates at Acadia were students preparing for pastoral ministry and something about hearing of their experiences, in addition to a growing sense that there was more to the Christian life than theology texts, led me to inquire about adding MDiv studies to my MA. Conversations with the dean of students at that stage made me reconsider. Since I still was “between denominations” it didn’t make a lot of sense.

During my time at McMaster I began to sense a desire to try preaching. This was especially true when a friend of mine, who had initially planned on pursuing a PhD in math and science, abandoned that direction for seminary. I had pastor friends all around me. And since I really enjoyed teaching, preaching seemed like a natural extension. And though I probably could have volunteered or asked for the opportunity and been given it by my pastor at the time, I was not someone who was forward enough to do so. In one candid moment when I mentioned to a pastor friend that the idea of pastoring and/or preaching had begun to occur to me, he said that he could see me being a pastor. Though he did say, too, that he could see me as an Anglican minister! I still don’t know what that means entirely!

I think God had to come at me through some back-doors, or at least some side-doors, to call me into ministry. For some time I had viewed what pastors do as dull. Even they seemed dull. It didn’t seem like an interesting calling at all. Studying theology, having my head in books and full of deep thoughts, was far more edifying than what I had observed of pastors and their calling. I also felt like something of an outsider in the Baptist world since so many pastors and students had grown up in it—or so it seemed to me—and had a level of familiarity with the landscape and its inhabitants that I did not.

My first actual opportunity to preach was in summer of 2002. I was living in St. Stephen with my mother until Alisha and I got married and I got a call from her pastor. He told me that he was going on vacation and was wondering if I would be willing to fill his pulpit for one of the weeks he was away. Given the fact that I had been thinking about preaching, this seemed like a gift from heaven; however, knowing what my first sermon must have been like for the congregation, I’m not sure they experienced it as the gift I did! It showed a lot of signs that I was a theology student and not yet a pastor. But I did it, and it was—despite the questionable quality of the sermon itself—a positive experience.

Since we were getting married that summer (2002) Alisha and I were also trying to find work of some sort. Blissville Baptist Church was looking for a pastor since theirs had just retired, and both Alisha and I were interviewed for pulpit supply. I can’t say whether or not the deacons of the church were accepting our resumes for a possible calling to more than supply preaching, but that is certainly all I had in mind at the time. And call us for pulpit supply they did—several times!

Shortly before Christmas 2002 they asked if we would consider a joint call to part-time ministry at their church beginning in June of 2003. After much prayer and conversation and reflection, we agreed that we felt God calling us to say yes to this ministry opportunity. Whether pastoral ministry was going to be a more permanent vocation for either of us still wasn’t certain, but I at least saw this as the chance to try the vocation on for size. It fit, it turns out, even if it took time for me to see so.

When the financial situation at Blissville made it clear to the deacons, congregation, and to us that maintaining even a part-time pastoral ministry was untenable, Alisha and I found ourselves in a place of uncertainty. We knew God had called us to Blissville but might he perhaps call us to yet another church?

That was about the time when I received a phone call from the search committee of Nerepis Baptist Church. After the initial interview both Alisha and I (though they were calling me, they also wanted her for part of the interview) had lingering doubts and questions. So we asked for a second interview and it felt like all of our doubts were addressed and our questions were answered. I accepted the call. And I am still here.

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