On a cool Christmas day in 1999 I sat behind the pulpit at Glen Burnie United Methodist church assisting Rev. Jim Lucas during his communion service. A little of a year prior, Pastor Jim had asked for volunteers to help create a contemporary service. Strangely, I agreed. I say ‘strangely’ because I had just recently gotten back into church life after nearly a decade spent apart from it. It was during this contemporary service that I started to hear a new voice speaking to/through my heart telling me that it wanted more. You see, I was helping to lead this service and God was speaking to me and telling me that He was happy I was doing this, but He wanted more of me. This was a bit terrifying, especially when God got particular and told me He wanted me to become a local pastor. I could spend pages and pages telling of my refusals and counter-arguments to God in regards to this request, but suffice to say that I mirrored Moses in that I kept rejecting the call citing (what I thought were reasonable!) reasons why I couldn’t and shouldn’t become a pastor. God, though, is stubborn and continued to speak to me getting louder and louder. Which brings us back to that Christmas day in 1999. As I sat there, God decided to state His case again. This time, He had the volume turned up to 11. I felt a bit like the guy in that old Maxell cassette ad:
I quickly came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to win this argument, so I humbly accepted God’s request. And thus began a new journey in my life that on this past Saturday reached a pinnacle – I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist church.
The point of this post is not me, though. I wouldn’t have gotten here without a LOT of help from a lot of people. And since Facebook posts can only be so long, I thought I would take some time here where I have as much space as I want. For those of you reading and not interested in hearing all about my journey, here is the TL/DR (too long, didn’t read) version: It takes a lot of people to help a person reach a goal – even being ordained.
Glen Burnie United Methodist Church
As I said earlier, this is where it all began. Pastor Jim and Rev. Olin Herndon were instrumental in getting me started on my journey. They guided, helped and lifted me at the very beginning and ensured that I got started in the right way. There were so many others that helped and aided me at Glen Burnie, but I want to single out 3 ladies who have been such an important influence on me to this very day. Let me start with Jan Hacker who seemed to be involved in so much at the church. Jan taught me that being a Christian meant caring for others and working for the Lord. Her leading of the Stephen’s Ministry class was an important part of my calling. The next person is the epitome of a prayer warrior – which, before I met her, I thought was a silly and unrealistic term. Valerie Mand, though, taught me so much about the importance and all encompassing need for prayer. The last lady I want to lift up is Lynn Miller. Lynn was my cohort and unofficial mentor when working with the youth. We co-taught the junior/senior high Sunday School class along with being counselors for the youth group. Lynn is a strong Christian woman who showed me that Christian love can, and sometimes should, have a little edge in it – especially when dealing with kids, since they need love, time and boundaries.
Again, there are so many others, but here is where my journey takes its second major step – my first appointment.
Trinity United Methodist Church
I served there for 5 years, the last 4 as a student-pastor while I attended Wesley Theological Seminary. The best way I can describe being a student-pastor is that it’s like learning to swim by being tossed into the deep end of the pool. It was a great experience, but I often learned by making mistakes. Fortunately, the church was full of loving and supportive folks that stood by me and tolerated my mistakes and the occasional weird attempt at doing something different. It’s hard to put into words how much I learned and how much Trinity still means to me.
But life moves on, and after graduating seminary there came a strange little ‘lull’ in my journey, and my family and I took advantage of this to head back home to Pennsylvania.
Sugar Creek Parish
I am finishing up my 9th and final year here in Sugar Creek and I leave here with great sadness. If Trinity was about learning how to be a pastor, then Sugar Creek was about applying what I learned. Again, I’ve made mistakes, but the support and love here helped me through these mistakes. And, again, there have been so many that have helped and encouraged me through this journey that I don’t dare start mentioning any lest I miss any particular one. That said, I will mention one person that was near and dear to me – Dick Besley.
When our family lost our house due to the flood, Dick and his wife Linda took us in. Dick was the administrative and spiritual leader of Cross Roads UMC and a father-like figure for me. We didn’t always agree, but I always valued his input. He was a good friend and a mentor. Dick passed away earlier this year and I will miss him greatly.
When we moved up to East Troy, I fell in with a great bunch of UMC pastors in the area: Brian Myfelt, Laura King and Jerry Schmidt. For several years we were like the 4 Musketeers. We met regularly, helped and supported each other and generally had a great time. While we still stay connected, time and distance has weakened our bonds, but I don’t think they will ever totally go away.
Through my journey I’ve had several mentors who have really helped me through discussion, helpful criticism and by lifting me up during the rough times. Scott Ogden has been with me for such a long time I really feel like I couldn’t have done this without him. Jim Hollister, Andy Weidner and Helen Learn also provided much aid.
I also want go give a shout out to Jane O’Borski who toiled through the system along with me for so long and to Drew Cottle who was, by far, my favorite and most helpful covenant group leader.
Finally thanks to all of the great District Superintendents I’ve had that have encouraged and aided me: from Maryland-Chris Holmes, Tom Willard, Greg Rapp and Beth Jones. I have been blessed to have such a long list of great DSs and it seems like the list will grow with Barry Robison. And don’t let me forget Marian Hartman who took time to critique my Commissioning theology paper which directly lead to it being approved!
Last But Not Least
There is no way I could have done any of this without my wonderful, beautiful, smart and loving wife, Becky. She is definitely one of God’s greatest gifts to me.
Finally, my greatest and humblest thanks go to God who looked down on strange little computer programmer who hadn’t been in church in close to 10 years and said “I’ll make a pastor out of him.” Every blessing, every skill and talent, every opportunity, every wonderful thing that has happened is due to God who stubbornly stuck with me (and continues to stick with me). Through His grace and love, may this journey continue for a long and fruitful time.