I posted here that I would be sharing my story in four different versions over the next few days. Here we are, several days later, and I have not shared any of them.
So, here they are:
6 words: Lost, broken, found cultivating Jesus Community
140 characters: 9th grade moved to Houston with a Boston accent. Church welcomed me, introduced me to Jesus, and we haven’t looked back.
Elevator pitch: I grew up in Church. Let me correct that; I grew up in Church enough to think that I was a part of it, but not enough that it became a part of me.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that it started to become clear. Moving to a new place for 9th grade, I discovered I was an outsider. Two groups were eager to take me in: one, a group of other outsiders who were headed in the direction of drug use and dropping out; and two, the youth group at Faith United Methodist Church.
This group welcomed me enough to challenge me. I still remember a representative of the girls of the youth group telling me that, as a group, they would not talk to me until I stopped cutting people down. This got my attention.
In that context I began to learn what it meant to be a sinner, and, therefore, what it means to be saved, redeemed, forgiven.
I want everyone else, whether they feel like an outsider or not, to have this experience of knowing what it means, how it feels, to be saved, redeemed, healed, forgiven.
Long Form: We moved to suburban Houston to start my freshman year of high school. It was there, in 1977, that I learned that I had picked up a bit of a Boston accent from having lived there from age 2 to 4. 1977 wasn’t a really good time to move to Houston with a Boston accent – much less as a high school freshman.
Lonely, wanting new friends in a new place, I still first refused to go to Church with my parents. After a bad experience with my first try at a junior high youth group at the church I had been confirmed into in Maryland, I wanted nothing to do with church.
But loneliness can be quite a motivator. I had started to hang out with a few other outsiders. Then, the next Sunday, I went along with my family to Faith UMC. There I was discovered by a student from my Spanish class. She invited us (my brother and I) to go bowling with the youth group the following weekend, and we were in. We didn’t miss another youth group or church function unless we were out of town.
In the context of that caring, welcoming community, I responded to an altar call at a District Youth Rally and gave my life to Christ. Then, believe it or not, I did what they told me to: started praying and reading the Bible.
I soon felt like the only way for me to live faithfully as a Christian was to accept a call to ministry. This feeling carried me all the way to college, where after a year or so I started to wonder that was, indeed, my calling. Following Jesus doesn’t require one to pursue ordained ministry. As I looked elsewhere, though, I felt doors were closing rather than opening. Therefore, I concluded, my calling was to continue to pursue ordination in The United Methodist Church
Then I began to doubt my call was to pastoral ministry. Of all the tasks and responsibilities of a pastor, preaching most scared me. It proved an elusive ability until I was appointed to my first pastorate. Since then God graciously reminds me every time I preach that I am answering God’s own call on my life!
At first I thought following Jesus was just about me. I was so surrounded by the community of people in my church that I didn’t realize how valuable, even essential, they were to my being a disciple. Through college, seminary, and in every church I have served since I have become more and more aware of the importance of community. I cannot be a disciple on my own!
When my first marriage began to end in 1999, I began to learn new ways to rely upon Christ’s body, the church, for support. I remember days, even weeks of feeling like I was wandering through life, barely managing to parent my junior high daughter. In my responsibilities as pastor during this time I drew strength from members of my congregation. We really do need each other!
When I was young, I understood part of my call to be to renew the United Methodist Church. I still feel this call, but I found that God has also been continually renewing me.
I cannot wait to see what God has in store!
What is your story? I encourage you to think it through enough to tell it: write it, speak it, tweet it. Whatever you do, share it!