the way of love … for the sake of the Bride

Yesterday afternoon, I began to read a new book:

For the Sake of the Bride: Restoring the Church to Her Intended Beauty” by Steve Harper

In this book, Steve talks about “the way of love” as he has been led to understand it through his Lenten experience of 2014.  I have reached the point in the book that Steve has called the “intermission”… a time to pause reading, and pray.  At this point in the book, during the “intermission”, Steve asks the readers to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to put us (me) “within the way of love as never before.”

Steve isn’t talking about “love” as the world usually thinks of love…you know, hugs and kisses and boyfriends and girlfriends and Valentine’s Day and all that stuff…

No, so far in this book, Steve has been talking about “love” as God expresses it and offers it towards us and wants us to extend to other humans…you know, unconditional love towards everybody, no matter who and no matter what…forever and ever, amen… Steve has been talking about making this type of love the basis for everything we do, think and say, as we relate to everyone in the world…well, actually, to this point in the book, he has been laying the biblical foundations for making this type of love the basis for everything we do, think and say, as we relate to everyone in the world…

And here, at this juncture, he asks each of us readers to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to put us “within the way of love as never before.”

We aren’t to pray that God’s Holy Spirit does this for “the other guy”, rather that the Holy Spirit does it for ourselves…for each one of us…

I am to pray that the Holy Spirit will put me “within the way of love as never before.”

God’s way of love, the way that I am to love others, all others, is not easy… What will God’s way of love demand of me and how will it change me and where will it send me and who will it send me to?

I suspect that I will spend the rest of my life listening for God’s guidance and answers to those questions… and asking God for the courage to say, “Yes, Lord…whatever, and whenever, and wherever and whoever”!

I will pray as Steve has asked (then finish reading the book)… and I’ll trust God for the rest.

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Pre-quel to blog post: “life … the journey … the adventure …”

In Nov 2012, I met with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry for the East Central District of Florida.  At that meeting, the committee members decided to discontinue my candidacy as a candidate for ordination in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The reason they gave me was that they had “not seen enough growth.”

Such a statement is open to wide interpretation, and did not seem to be really helpful as I processed the committee’s decision.  I had failed to complete the commissioning paperwork so that I might be considered by the district committee for approval to submit the paperwork to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  In discussing this in my re-certification paperwork, I acknowledged that I tend to procrastinate, and that I felt that part of the reason underlying my procrastinating on completing the commissioning paperwork had to do with a fear of failing to get said paperwork approved by the district committee, thereby failing to be approved by them.

I figured my failure to complete the commissioning paperwork was part of the reason, if not all of the reason that the committee chose to discontinue my candidacy. And if this was indeed the case, then I think it would have been far more honest on the district committee’s part, and perhaps better for me had I been told something along the lines of:

You have had multiple chances to get the paperwork done for us to approve you and send forward to the BOOM (Board of Ordained Ministry), but you have not done it.  For whatever the reason you think you are procrastinating, we think that perhaps you aren’t really serious and just don’t want to do the paperwork.  We are going to discontinue your candidacy.  If you are serious, and do want to be ordained in the United Methodist Church, you can return in two years to request to become a certified candidate.  This will give you time to decide if you really want to do this paperwork and, maybe even time to get it done.

But then, I don’t really know if this was or was not the reasoning for my being discontinued.  Perhaps part of the real reason also included the fact that the District Committee in the past three years, also seemed (to me) to be trying to guide me towards Chaplaincy and accepting ordination as a Deacon.  While I know that chaplaincy is one way that I could express my call as an ordained pastor, I did not want to be ordained as a Deacon, because I believed that the sacramental rites were a part of my calling, even as a chaplain.

Also, I have never felt called as a chaplain… but rather as a pastor.

Editorial note:  God has subsequently sharpened my understanding of my call so that I now know myself to be called to “pastoral care”.  This understanding of my call fits anywhere God might lead me to serve, whether within the church walls or without, and whether I am call by the title of Chaplain or Pastor.  In any setting, I can minister to others as an ordained minister, while fulfilling my call to pastoral care.  And as sacraments are an important aspect of pastoral care, I would still want to be ordained an Elder within the United Methodist Church.

However, I don’t believe that the District Committee understood my call the way I do…  I do not believe that they “discerned” my call in the same way that I did.  And, while they (supposedly) cannot tell me how I am called or what my call is, it is my feeling that if my discernment and understanding of my call does not match their discernment and understanding of my call, then this could lead them to not continuing me as a candidate for ordained ministry.

Perhaps this is in part where they had not “seen enough growth”.  Perhaps they did not believe I had grown enough in my understanding of my call so that it matched theirs.  But once again, I don’t really know if that is true.  I just have a nagging sense that if I had answered the committee members’ questions to say that I felt called as a Chaplain and that I also felt God was leading me towards ordination as a Deacon, that I might have been re-certified as a candidate.

But then again, last year I had been given a contingency, and was asked to seek counseling with regards to “issues with authority figures” and “areas of guardedness”.  Once again, not a very clear directive, as I was not sure what they were referring to when they asked me to work on my “issues with authority figures”.  I was not sure which “issues” they thought I had.  As to my being “guarded” I could only surmise that they were using this term to describe what they felt was an apparent lack of my willingness to be open and vulnerable with them during the interview.  I was honestly not sure what I was doing or saying or not doing or not saying that led them to see me as guarded and having issues with authority figures.  And of course, the committee was not more specific, so I was left to puzzle it out with a counselor.

I did do the counseling they requested, basically determining that the guardedness they perceived was a defense mechanism I used when I was in a situation in which I felt nervous or unsure.  In my paperwork, I also explained that I was not always aware of when I was being “guarded”, and I spoke of how, growing up, I never perceived authority figures as being fallible, which perhaps played into my not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable in other peoples’ eyes:

I think this plays into my guardedness. I know it is important to be self aware, but I don’t like to appear weak to other people, or show something that might make me look   vulnerable. It makes me feel exposed, and I’m not comfortable with that. I’m also not comfortable discussing weaknesses or areas of concern outside of a relatively small group of friends.”  ~excerpt from the “self report” section of my candidacy continuation paperwork

Perhaps this is the area in which the district committee members did not see enough growth.  In my written self report I had shared with them that I did not like to appear weak, or to discuss areas of personal weakness or concerns outside of a small group of friends, but still in my interview with them, I shared openly with them about my tendency to procrastinate, and my feelings of a fear of failure that I believed was the basis, at least partially, for my procrastinating and failing to complete the commissioning paperwork.  In my humble opinion, the fact that I was even willing to share this openly and honestly with them should have been seen as tremendous growth in my willingness to be open, vulnerable and unguarded, with them.

But then, their reason for discontinuing my candidacy was so vague, at least to me, that I can’t even be sure if that was the reason, that they had not seen enough growth in regards to my apparent “issues with authority” and “areas of guardedness”.

Maybe their reasons for discontinuing me included all of the above mentioned possibilities, or parts of them… or perhaps, it was only the fact that I didn’t do the paperwork… and if this is the case, that the reason was my not getting the paperwork done, then they should have been open and honest with me, and stated that as the reason.

At any rate, I have chosen not to wait two years and then re-apply for certification as a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

I have chosen not to continue jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop as part of the ordination process for the United Methodist Church, which maybe is more for “weeding people out” of the process than encouraging them and helping them to grow as they go through the process.

I have also chosen not to give up on answering God’s call on my life to ordained ministry.

To that end, I have decided to seek ordination through another denomination, through the Free Methodist Church.  After all, it is God who has called me to ordained ministry, not the United Methodist Church.

life … the journey … the adventure …

It is really interesting how things happen in life…

Although I had always gone to church, and from earliest memories, professed a belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, in June of 2000, I had a unique experience during which I felt God’s Presence with me in a powerful way…  Over the years, my faith had changed from “relationship” to “religion”, where I was going through the motions at church, but not growing in my relationship with God… and on this particular day in June 2000, I felt God’s Presence, inviting me to return to a growing relationship with him… indeed, I felt as though I was being physically drawn to God!

I knew that I could refuse this invitation… but I chose not to…

It was an experience that totally changed my life and the way I was living.

No, I didn’t suddenly become what some might think of as a freaky, weird Christian who ran around telling people they were going to hell if they didn’t believe in Jesus, or asking people if they knew where they’d go when they died… I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning with the supernatural ability to speak in other languages (although, I don’t think I’d mind waking up one morning, suddenly and unexplainably, apart from God that is, being able to speak fluent Spanish)… I didn’t suddenly have great knowledge and wisdom about God and faith and all things religious…

What I did have was an assurance that God loved me… right then and there, no matter what my life was like then…

What I did have was an assurance that God wanted to be in relationship with me, and wasn’t waiting until I was a perfect person (as if I could ever be that on my own) to invite me back into that relationship…

What I did have was an assurance that if I allowed it, God’s Holy Spirit would work in my life and in my heart to change me into the person that God wanted me to be…

And as time went on, and my relationship began to grow again, I had the dawning realization that God had a specific purpose for my life… that God was calling me to become an ordained Christian minister…

God’s revealing of his Presence with me that day in June 2000 set me on a grand adventure and journey… one which I am still on, as I seek to know and follow his will over mine… and as all adventures and journeys with God go, there are ups and downs… times of confusion and uncertainty… times when all I can see are the next couple of steps in that journey… times of challenge… times when decisions must be made… times of surrender of my will to God’s will over and over and over and over again… times of wondering if I will ever “get there”, and then realizing that the journey never ends, that there will always be new places to go and new things to do and be for God, that the only time I will “get there” is when I see my God face to face…

But there is one certainty I have as I continue on my journey and adventure… that no matter what happens, no matter whether I have wonderful, exultant “mountain top” experiences along my way, or whether I feel I am traveling through “the valley of the shadow of death” at times in this journey (or anything in-between those places)… I have the certainty that God is with me and God still calls me and still guides me…

A few months ago, I decided for a variety of reasons, to no longer seek ordination as a pastor with the denomination that I had grown up in, the United Methodist Church…

Instead, I decided to seek ordination through the Free Methodist Church…

I chose the Free Methodist Church because…

1.  Its structure is similar to what I am used to and agree with… Bishops and Superintendents to provide oversight and accountability, and a connectional system, so that no church or minister is out there doing their own thing with no support or guidance; and an appointive system, as opposed to having to be “called” by a church, so that as a pastor, one’s first allegiance is to follow God’s will, instead of following the congregation’s will (it’s great when those two are in agreement, but occasionally, that is not the case)…

2.  Its theology is Wesleyan…

3.  My life, at a very young age was impacted in an important way by a Free Methodist Church pastor, and so I felt a connection to the Free Methodist Church in a way I did not feel toward any other denomination…

To that end, the other evening, at the meeting of our Annual Conference (the South Atlantic Annual Conference), I was accepted as a Conference Ministerial Candidate, and appointed to the Orlando Fellowship (an incarnational, missional ministry team) where I will continue to express my call of pastoral care, currently through being a hospice chaplain.

As a Conference Ministerial Candidate, my journey towards ordination continues, as I enter the final phase of being mentored… in preparation to be fully ordained as an Elder in the Free Methodist Church within the next three years… but even that, ordination… will not be the “journeys end” in answering God’s call on my life…

God will always have an adventure for me, as my journey with him continues…

God will continue to work in my heart and life to form me and perfect me, as God is the “author and perfector of my faith”…

Yes… it is interesting how things happen in our lives… and what could be better than answering the call of the One who loves me more than any human could… answering the call of the One who died, that I might be able to have peace with God… answering the call of the One who is able to take the broken pieces of my life, and create a tapestry of love that through me, reaches out and touches the world… that others may know how much God loves them…

Been “Bugged” Lately?

A friend of mine posted this on FaceBook.  It was shared as an example of something humorous that happened to her as the pastor of her church during one of their services.  As this is a blog dedicated to sharing peoples’ varied stories and experiences, I asked if I might share this one, and Sarah agreed.  Here in her words, Sarah recounts this “perilous” and funny experience:

“I served the cup for communion today. Just as communion was beginning, and I was standing in front of hundreds of people, a small bug flew up my nose. Looking at all those people in line, I didn’t know what to do! My nose itched and burned something fierce. The perils of the pastorate”.

Being a pastor does have its hazards… some that are even funny!  I can tell you that I would have had a hard time maintaining my composure and not sneezing furiously into the communion cup and over all the people in front of me…  Sarah, I applaud you!!