Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still Calling

A man in his 20's says:

To set this up, you need to know I'm a Christian, specifically an Episcopalian. Also I'm married and called to be a priest.

A couple of years ago I was in the middle of what they call the discernment process--essentially the application and approval process which leads to going to seminary and eventually to the priesthood. The process up to that point had been somewhat of a pain. A necessary pain, but a pain nonetheless. One of the requirements was an approval by the vestry (the board) of my home church.

My priest asked me to come to church a little early one Wednesday night right around this time. He was a young guy, who was just out of seminary himself. His office was so small there was nothing between us as we sat. The look on his face gave me a knot in my stomach. "I've been looking for a way to say this, and I think it's best just to say it. You did not get the approval of the vestry to go further in the discernment process."

The wind was knocked out of me. In that moment, all the plans I had, the plan I thought were God's plans, came to a screeching halt. I asked for the reasons, and he vaguely mentioned something about not being mature enough right now. What was frustrating about this whole situation was that the people there didn't really know me, not the real me. So how could they judge if I was ready or not? Just like it was with college friends--everything was just on the surface. No deep meaningful relationships.

The people there still don't know me. And now I'm questioning whether I'm supposed to be a priest at all. It ended up being a good thing, I think. It allowed me some time for introspection, and I've come out a better person for it. But I still don't feel any kind of fulfillment, and not being sure of my direction in life has made things worse.


The Conversation:

Jason: How's it going this evening?

Pretty good. Tired but pretty good.

Jason: Long day?

Yeah, my day starts early

Jason: I'm sitting here with a glass of homebrewed mead. Anything over on your end?

Not yet.

Jason: You want to grab something or just get
started?

My wife is bringing me something in a minute. Lets do this.

Jason: First off, I really felt for you in what you've shared already. I thought we'd start with a pretty big topic. What was the first time God truly revealed himself in your life? I don't mean just going to church because your parents went. Really had a presence personally.

I would say the first time I FELT God was in college. Felt him and really understood, you know?

Jason: Tell me a little about that. What were you doing at that moment?

Well I was on a retreat actually in Panama City, and the whole weekend was themed around the Holy Spirit. One of the nights there was a service where there was an alter call, and I went up not really having a purpose, but went just because that's what I was supposed to do. For show almost.

Around that time I had really started to deal with the death of my father, which was something that I hadn't ever fully gotten into until college. So I went up there, and it just hit me, God was telling me that he was there for me. I never really felt God until that point. I understood that God loved me, but there had always been some transference of my relationship with my Earthly father to the Heavenly Father. So God had always been distant. But at that moment, he wasn't distant and I cried like a baby. I was up there for a good 20 minutes just weeping.

Jason: You had already chosen to become a priest at this point?

Oh lord, no. That wasn't until years later. I wanted to be a coach at that point.

Jason: What year in college were you?

I was in my second year.

Jason: What kind of coach did you want to be?

Football and wrestling.

Jason: What were you majoring in?

I think at that time I was still officially undecided. I just hadn't done the paperwork to switch to Physical Education.

Jason: How long before had your father died?

My father died when I was six, and I was twenty at the time, if memory serves. A little over 14 years.

Jason: What did His presence at that moment in Panama City mean to you at the time?

Well, at the time, it gave me an appreciation for who I had in my life that cared for me, my friends especially. God kind of showed me that he had put them in my life to hold me up.

Jason: Were you struggling?

I didn't see it at the time, but I was. I was so desperate for acceptance. But at the time, I wouldn't have said I was struggling. Not to any great extent.

Jason: Did you tell your friends what you experienced that night?

Oh yeah, they were in the room. They saw what I experienced. I went up to my roommates who were my best friends and gave them a huge hug.

Jason: Did they share it with you? Did they seem to understand the importance?

Another friend had her arm around me as I cried. They seemed to get it, yes.

Jason: Had they had similar experiences they could share with you?

No, I think the nature of the relationship with them was more of older bothers, at that time anyway. So they didn't share, not that they weren't open to it. It just didn't happen.

Jason: Around this time, when you were twenty, what was the kind of moment when you would feel hurt for not being accepted? When did you feel left out or isolated?

I seemed to always get left out of social gatherings. Not intentionally, I think, but people just didn't think to call me. That happened a lot.

Jason: Did you have a best friend or two, or did you tend to be around people who were best friends with someone other than you?

At that time, my best friends were two of my roommates. They were both older. One of them was my former youth director. I was less social with my college student friends, the ones who were my age.

Jason: Did you ever speculate on why they didn't invite you?

Oh yeah. I thought they didn't like me. I thought they thought I was annoying or whatever.

Jason: Why would they think you were annoying?

Well, I didn't like myself very much at the time, so I was always looking for validation from other people. I had to include myself if I wanted to be included.

Jason: How did you end up with older roommates?

During my first year in college, I lived alone. When summer rolled around, it just seemed natural to try to find a place with my two best friends. I was at their apartment my first year anyway. I slept there a lot.

Jason: Did you know them before college?

Like I said, one of them was my youth director, and the other one was his friend. He actually came with my other friend to youth group sometimes. They were who I knew when I want to college so I already had an "in" with this particular group.

Jason: How long before this time was he your youth director?

He became my youth director middle of my sophomore year in high school.

Jason: Did he look out for you?

In high school or college?

Jason: Mainly high school.

He looked out for all of us. I don't know that he made a special effort towards me.

Jason: When you say you would sleep over at his apartment, did you have a dorm room and roommate somewhere else?

No. I lived off campus in a crappy one bedroom place. I had planned to go to a different college out of state and then changed my mind, so I never lived on campus. I got into the dorm process late.

Jason: So, off the bat, you were at a disadvantage fitting in.

I have to preface this next bit because I neglected to mention a big fact so far that you may have picked up on. My social group was pretty much centered around my campus ministry. I was very active in our local campus ministry. My youth director had been the president, etc. I feel like I had a big advantage fitting into my social group because a lot of the older students there came and spoke at my youth group.

Jason: Was this social group the same one you felt left out of?

Eventually yes, but that was really after the older students who I knew prior to college had started to leave

Jason: How were you around other freshmen?

I was fine, I suppose. A few of them were from one county over and went to the rival high school. I clicked with them and another guy my age. There was actually a nice little group of us freshmen at first. Two of those guys were in my wedding.

Jason: But it changed over time? As the older group left, you felt like you lost some ground with your peers?

Exactly. The fact that I was so "in" with the older students helped in the short term, but hurt in the long term because I wasn't making those connections with the other freshmen. I was hanging out with the people I knew more. Of course, it's not that we all didn't hang out together sometimes. We did. Just not frequently.

Jason: When you say that you didn't like yourself at the time, what particular things bothered you?

Well, my physical appearance mainly, and I had a hard time seeing my good qualities, so the bad were very pronounced. I was a horrible procrastinator and didn't put forth a very strong effort in classes.

Jason: After your father's death, did your mother remarry?

Yes. A few years later.

Jason: Was he your stepfather all the way through until this time period?

Yes.

Jason: How was your relationship with him?

Pretty bad, actually.

Jason: What went wrong?

Well, I was a city boy that had moved to the country, and I never seemed to be able to do anything right consistently.

Jason: Was he critical of you?

Yes.

Jason: How did your mother view your relationship with him? Did she see how critical he was?

She knew, but she didn't see it in the same light because she knew him differently and better.

Jason: How was your relationship with her by the time senior year of high school rolled around?

It was pretty good. Around that time it started to shift to where it is now. Almost more friends than parent/child. I mean she's still my mother.

Jason: Do you have older siblings?

Yes. An older sister.

Jason: How was your relationship with her growing up?

Pretty typical, I suppose. Annoying younger brother type of thing. I've come to realize now that basically she's very difficult. No other way to put it. So things got pretty intense at times growing up, and I think that explains some of it.

Jason: Did she get along with your stepfather?

No. Not at all.

Jason: Did they fight?

Yes, but not like equals. He's a pretty old school guy when it comes to parenting, and they clashed a lot. There is a better word than fight for what they did, but I can't think of it right now.

Jason: Did he manage to get the upper hand, or did she always manage to hold her ground in some way?

She had her moments, and I don't think she ever really submitted to his authority, but you could say he had the upper hand.

Jason: After your moment in Panama City, how did your plans to go into physical education change? Was it an abrupt process, or a slower drift?

They didn't change. I still went into physical education.

Jason: What did you do after graduation?

I eventually changed my major from physical education to general studies after I realized that I didn't want to do PE anymore, so after graduation I continued with my college job and picked up some more hours until I was able to get a better (in theory) job.

Jason: Did you get another job?

Yes. A few months after graduation, I got a job with family and children services.

Jason: How long after this did you begin to think about the priesthood?

I was called to the priesthood while I was still in college.

Jason: Was the process of following that calling going on at the same time? I'm trying to understand logistically what was involved.

Yes, the process was going on at the same time. See, I wasn't even an Episcopalian when I received the call, so I had to be confirmed and then wait to start the process.

Jason: Was there a particular moment when you received the calling?

Oh yeah, there was a moment while I was on another retreat.

Jason: What happened there?

There was this point during the weekend where they set it up where you take a walk to the chapel. It's at night and the path is lined with candles and also lined with people who had been on the retreat in the past. They're singing to you. Pretty amazing actually

Jason: It sounds powerful. How did you feel?

Loved. Pure and simple. I wept again there too.

Jason: What was different this time (the calling)? What did it mean to you at that moment to be a priest?

Different from panama city?

Jason: Yes. And any time before. What did becoming a priest mean to you at that point? How would your life be different than if you remained at family and children services or some other job?

I think it was different because of the shear activeness of the people involved. They were doing something for me. They were acting on God's behalf. In the past, my deep moments like that with God were somewhat passive as opposed to active. At the time, being a priest meant being a preacher and a pastor, but they are actually pretty different than being a priest. But Baptist and Methodist clergy were all I knew. I wouldn't be fulfilled to any great extent if I were in another job other than priest.

Jason: Did you feel like you would have a vital role in something far greater than most everything else the world could offer?

I think that's true to a certain extent now, even though I think the laity is more important than the priesthood, but I didn't think along those lines at the time.

Jason: What drew you to the Episcopalian priesthood more than to the ministry in the Baptist or Methodist church?

The community. People seemed more genuine in the Episcopal church, or my experiences at the time led me to believe that.

Jason: How were you received when you joined the church?

My wife was Episcopalian so she was ecstatic, and the church we ended up joining was very welcoming. The people I met on the greater church level were amazing.

Jason: Did they know when you joined that you were interested in the priesthood?

A few people knew. I didn't really advertise it to any great extent until I had been a member for a bit.

Jason: How was their reaction when you first told them?

There weren't any negative reactions but people weren't jumping out of there chairs. When it came up, the reaction was like, "okay, that's nice. Good for you."

Jason: How much time passed between that moment, and the moment you were told that the church was not recommending you to go forward?

I would say about 2 years.

Jason: When was the first time you suspected that things might not be going as well as you'd like?

Hmmmmm. Really, when the my priest told me about the decision.

Jason: Everything seemed to be positive up to that point?

As far as I could tell. Any negatives were very vague hints at things but nothing major.

Jason: You must have felt terribly blindsided. Sorry for that.

I was. Thanks for the sympathy.

Jason: When you left and had time to get over the shock, did you churn about what happened? What was really going on?

Well, it's funny. By the end of the night, I had run the gamut of emotions and potential scenarios. My wife ended up being more upset than me, and I ended up calming her down. Don't get me wrong. I was pissed, but my conscience kicked in pretty quickly as it usually does, and the right thing became clear.

Jason: What did you end up deciding?

Oh, I'm still there at that church. I'm still on the vestry (board). The immediate decision was clear: tough it out.

Jason: How did they fail you? What did they not see?

They didn't see me, the real me. They saw the immature kid who couldn't hide his frustrations during meetings. They didn't see my passion for helping people. It's a distinct possibility that I'm to blame for a lot of that. To be honest, I don't get excited about that church. (Never really said that out loud before.)

Jason: What don't you like about it?

There isn't anyone there our age for us to be connected with. I don't think my wife and I get a lot of respect because of how young we are. Everyone there is a good bit older. Not nursing home old, but older.

Jason: What sorts of things would frustrate you at meetings?

Oh man, for a while we didn't have a priest so the SR warden ran the meetings, and he didn't know how to reign people in, and they would go on for hours. We had a 3 hour meeting one night. Now we have a priest. 1 hr 45 min tops.

Jason: What did the human failings of this church do to your calling?

To be honest, not a whole lot. It made me question it, but human failing are what it's all about you know? I think it confirmed to me that I may not be called to be a parish priest, but that's out of my hands to a great extent.

Jason: Are you following the calling now in another way?

That's what I've been trying to do since I got the calling--find someway to live it out while I'm waiting. Right now, I'm active in Vocare, which is a ministry for young adults. It's a retreat weekend. It's based on the retreat weekend where I received my calling. Same basic format. Just different in a few ways. More Ecumenical. (The other one, not Vocare.)

Jason: Who are you right now? If you could build a life around you based on a pure expression of who you are, what would that life entail?

Wow. Right now, I'm a guy who's still figuring out who he is. In that world, my life would entail community and genuine relationships. I would hope to foster that with and between other people, because really all we have in life is other people. That's how God moves--through and sometimes in spite of people. I would say a pure expression of who I am would be genuine caring, people being open and real with each other, and lifting each other up.

Jason: I'm going to type something longer now. It may take a minute....

Jason: If I try to put myself in your shoes, at many times in my life, I felt a great weight pressing on me. It's very difficult, if possible at all, to remember my father as a person, but I sure remember his absence. The man I could have looked up to, and been mentored by, disapproved of me and made me feel like I wasn't competent, like I couldn't handle the things I was supposed to. The church, youth groups, and my personal relationship with God were my lifeline, because behind all these hurts and disappointments and doubts, I could see the truth of something much greater, something eternal. There are people who devote themselves to the passion of that truth, and I feel most at home working alongside them. But they're hard to find. I'm still looking. I wish people would let go of all the smallness and pettiness and see what I see. The purity of what's possible.

That's amazing. Truly amazing.

Jason: I feel like I understand a small part of what you went through.

I think you captured it pretty well.

Jason: I hope you feel a little lighter. That a small bit of the weight is lifted.

I do feel that way, I really do, and I thank you

Jason: You're very, very welcome. Thank you for participating and sharing your feelings! I'm sure your experience will help others when they read it.

I hope so. Thank you for doing this. What you're doing is a good thing in this world.

Jason: Have a great night.

You too, Jason.

4 comments:

Sarah Hina said...

I admire your coming forward to discuss something so painful. Every destination worth seeking requires internal struggle, and such bracing honesty.

I wish you could find a church, and friends, that are more supportive and appreciative of you. But I'm glad for your wife's support, and for the retreats that have been a second home for you. Your desire to connect with people is a healthy one, and a source of salvation, I'm sure.

It sounds like your relationship with God, and the church, is evolving. Be excited about where that takes you! And good luck. :)

ChrisEldin said...

I agree with Sarah. I hope you find what you are looking for, but really when I read your words it sounds like you are creating what you're looking for, piece by piece.
I have friends and family of all denominations, but I myself do not wish to belong to any religious group. I believe deeply that what we do matters, and to strive for goodness and to help lift others when we can is our duty. I believe in spirits and of things that are beyond our five senses.

But I see and feel so many grays in this world. The blacks and whites of issues fade into one another.

I am looking for something similar, but not in religion.

Thank you for sharing something so personal.

SzélsőFa said...

It seems to me that you are someone who's actively seeking the way that fits you and your belief the most and you are definitely on the right path to achieve it.
The fact that community, sharing, and helpful education are very important for you would surely make you a good priest, leader, whatever you are trying to be (I'm not sure I understood every bit of it, I'm sorry).

anna j said...

Thank you for sharing. For the first time in my life I have had a career "rejection," in a sense . . . I'll never know for sure whether it was lack of foresight and planning on the part of a small church without a pastor, or if they decided I wasn't what they were looking for. But after being pulled to start a Youth Program, which was something I had never considered before that, my temporary work permit was not renewed. They said they didn't have the funds to pay a Youth Worker and a Pastor, which they planned to hire. But I still wonder. And I fear that I failed in the ministry . . .