How did I get here? (by request)
Since coming to the Upper Susquehanna Synod I have had occasion to ponder my faith story or … How did I get here?
Having grown up in Brooklyn from the age of six and, except for my time at seminary, never having left New York State, I find myself wondering what would lead to such a big change in life. I loved my life in Brooklyn – the crowds, the activity, the noise. I particularly loved finding those out-of-the-way places of beauty like the Highline, the small house tucked amidst skyscrapers, the pocket park, or that quaint restaurant in the middle of the block. Unlike my sister, I never thought I would want to leave New York; and if I did, it would be for another big city like Seattle or Tokyo (I love the trains in Tokyo even more than New York). Nor did I find the cost of living in New York to be too high, as my brother did. And when I wanted to get away from the city for a while I always had family and friends I could visit, or our vacation house in the Poconos.
Here’s what happened:
It begins with my call to ordained ministry.
In my mid-twenties I was working and living just north of New York City. While my brother was helping me move into the house I would share with a few friends he mentioned he knew of a Lutheran Church nearby (He and a friend had met a couple girls from there at a youth camp). I visited the congregation on a Sunday and was recruited for the choir, then the council and the worship committee. That fall, the congregation asked me to lead their youth group along with a couple other young adults, one of whom would become my wife.
In my zeal to learn more about the practice and theology of Lutheranism, in order to be a better leader on the worship committee, I began to consider attending classes in the synod’s Diakonia program (similar to our Lay Ministry Institute). As I spoke about this with Nancy she simply said, “No. You are going to seminary”, and she began to research the schools in and near New York that I might attend. Eventually, I entered the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, the same seminary my father attended. However, I entered thinking that if I never became a pastor it would not matter to me; I was there for the knowledge they would impart.
Upon graduation I still questioned my call to ordained ministry. I considered staying on for another degree but practicality, and the encouragement of the candidacy committee, friends and family, led me to take a call in Brooklyn. Even after ordination and installation, however, the question lingered. For twenty years in the congregation I could often be heard saying that I was pretty sure I was not called to be a pastor. About the only thing that would convince me otherwise was that every Sunday I would find the words to speak to a congregation – that and the affirmations I received from colleagues and other leaders in the church.
On and off over those twenty years I would keep my Rostered Leaders Profile up-to-date and check out new calls, never finding one that seemed right. I could not imagine myself in those calls [there’s more to this that can only be shared in person]. Eventually, I began to look at other types of ministry and started training for intentional interim ministry. It was then that I received an email from Bishop-elect Collins asking me to come to this synod – to serve as Assistant to the Bishop – to leave the comfort of the city for the unknown of Central Pennsylvania.
Up to this point I could never understand my colleagues who would speak about their calls in such certain terms, saying that they could feel the Holy Spirit’s guidance and sense the rightness of their calls. Suddenly, it became clear to me! I felt several things come together in the Bishop’s call and had no question as to whether I should accept. My previous twenty years of ministry began to come into focus and I started to see how those years were occupied in preparation “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Successes and mistakes (my informal education), coupled with learning through continuing education, had equipped me for the work to which I am now called. While in the midst of it I could not see a path: only in looking back did it become clearer.
It was a leap of faith, coming to the Upper Susquehanna Synod. But I had learned a new way of faith that came from the Holy Spirit’s effusive presence and action. I learned this faith through the hard discipline of seminary and congregational leadership, slogging through difficult times in work and home life. It is this same faith that will get me through valleys and mountains in this new call and will save me from despair when the flood of work threatens to overwhelm me. It is this same faith through which I look to the future, wondering what God has in store for me next. It is this faith that has taught me to trust the vision of others when my own vision is clouded.
I thank God for giving me this faith in Baptism and for my parents who raised me to know God’s love. I also thank God for the many people who encouraged me along the path I could not discern for myself; especially my wife who pushed me when I would not have gone.