I was invited by my good friend and ministry colleague Jason Stanley to share my story on how I became a United Methodist Ordained Deacon. You can find it on his blog and a revised version below. I’d love to hear your story of where you see God working in your life.
The seed for my call was planted before I was born. My maternal grandmother was passionate about serving and caring for others – humans, animals and creation. It was through her life and the way that my mother was raised that I became an advocate for those without a voice. Granny lived a life and left a legacy filled with stories of providing for care for children. She opened the family home to her children’s friends giving them a warm meal, clothes to wear and a place to stay. Young people always had a voice around her table.
Granny cared equally for animals and there are many stories of family members coming into the kitchen to find beside the wood burning stove “the box”. “The box” provided protection for an animal that was born the littlest or one that was injured. Granny raised it with care until the animal was ready to leave. Her love for creation was equal to the love she had for people and animals. She was a farmer and a gardener who never seemed to have a challenge growing plants. I believe it was the care with which she planted the seed and tended the soil that enabled her gardens to flourish. Daily she gave thanks and praise to God for all that she had and deeply desired to share her blessings with others.
The seed was planted by my grandmother and the soil was tended by her and my mother – and countless family members and neighbors. I was raised by a village of people who cared for one another. I think that’s the way of the mountains and in my bias especially the Appalachian Mountains where I was raised. In those mountains there is a sense of family, of community, of belonging and it happens because of the people.
From an early age I found myself connecting with those on the margins – the elderly who had no family left to visit them, the person in my class who no one would talk to, the student who learned differently than others or the family member who struggled to find their way. My heart had a natural call to notice them, to encourage and to provide support and resources where they were needed. Throughout my life, I have been called to journey with others during the sacred moments of their lives.
In essence, my calling is about how God has taken me, another ordinary person, and brought them along a most extraordinary journey.
Throughout my life, I have felt called to be a voice for those without a voice and to a life of service. As a lobbyist and political advocate I worked on legislation and educational programs focused on the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. It was this passion for social justice that brought me to seminary after a 16 year career of government and political work. I thought I was called to social justice ministry in a global sense and could see myself as a missionary serving in another country or assisting the church in being a voice at the legislative branch of government. That changed with the unexpected death of my brother in my second year of seminary. His life and death returned me full circle to offer safe and trusting spaces where they people can encounter God during the challenging and joyful moments of their lives. This call to be a bridge, a connector also helped me discern my call not only to ordained ministry but to the ministry of a deacon.
I currently live this out through teaching and proclaiming the Word of God at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Richmond. As an ordained Deacon and an Associate Minister, I have the privilege of journeying with people as they move from someone who comes to church because they feel they are missing something inside to being on fire as they serve as a witness of God’s love in a world filled with pain. My call is to create spaces where people can learn and grow as they journey the path of becoming a disciple of Christ. Not only do I work with others to provide opportunities that aid in spiritual formation through small groups, Sunday School classes, workshops and programs but I assist people in serving outside the church.
Good Shepherd UMC is a body that is committed to local, national and international missions. As one who builds bridges, I help people discover their passions and gifts so that they can find their place of service. Personally, I continue to serve as an advocate through local and global mission experiences – many through the work of the congregation I serve and some on my own.
I am constantly discerning how to respond to God’s call on my life and in doing so I try to connect with my passions. One of the areas I’m very passionate about is education, especially reading. I have had a love of reading since before I can remember. Because of being able to read I have received great privilege – in terms of school, jobs and relationships. When someone cannot read, their ability to achieve in the world is greatly reduced. Being able to read makes a difference in a person’s life. This reconnecting with a passion has brought me full circle to serving as a tutor in the tutoring program offered by our congregation.
In each of these experiences, I have the opportunity to listen to others as they share their story – their sacred story. My hope is that by creating places where one can share their sacred story, each individual will become aware of the presence of God’s love for him or her and in turn each will be able to witness the transformative power of Christ in their life.
Are there experiences from your life that are nudging you into a direction that will make a difference in the life of another? Please share.