Evangelism and That Blasted “Calling” Thing

26 08 2008

Before I launch into this particular set of musings, two thoughts:

  • In the Discernment Process, one of the things you are supposed to articulate is “What is your ministry and why do you need to be ordained to do it?”
  • My friend, whom I call Deacon Rob (even though he’s not a Deacon yet, but he’s in school for it), said to me, “Some people in the process do nothing but speak of calling. Others do not speak of it at all, except in passing. You are one of those who do not speak of it.”

Over the past couple of months, I have been wrestling with this whole sense of calling thingy. This wrestling was brought on by no small part by my run-ins with Jesus (see here and here) over the summer. I feel as if I have begun to sense the price that is to be paid for living such a life in this particular vocation…it’s almost as if in some way you become sort of a public figure. I have to tell you there were times when I felt as if I wanted to look skyward and say “Do you mind? I’m trying to have a vacation here!”

My response to Deacon Rob was that I felt that if someone constantly talked about a sense of calling to ordained ministry, then they were trying to convince themselves and others that they actually had one. My reason for not talking about it was that if I were in the process, a sense of calling was a given, and there was no real need to talk about it, especially if one reads my autobiography which i submit to the Diocese and spends some time with me. Someone with a mark of calling on their lives would have it shine through their lives as opposed to having to point to it all the time. I”m not one to talk too much about the obvious except to acknowledge it and move on.

My wrestling with a sense of calling does not come from any question on whether or not it’s real. I believe it’s real and I am trusting that God will work through me and through the process to determine whether or not my vocation lies with the priesthood. But, I would be lying to everyone if I were not to admit that sometimes I wish that I were mistaken and that God would call someone else. Needless to say, I find myself identifying with Jonah a bit lately, wanting to resist until he finds himself in the belly of a whale.

Being on a train for 10 hours, only the New York Times and a book or two gives someone a lot of time to think. I was reminded of a lot of things, two in particular which stand out in my head and heart. One is that I find great fulfillment in doing the work of the Church, whether it’s helping out at a service, working in a food pantry, or listening to someone else’s story or sharing my own thoughts. I give thanks for the many people (anonymous or otherwise) I have encountered who felt comfortable enough to talk about things of faith.

To make a long story short, turning away or denying a calling of any sorts is basically a denial of a large part of who I am.

I still call myself an Evangelical even though that label lends itself to all types of negative connotations. There are many reasons why I cling to that name, but the biggest reason is that I feel called to share the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ with the world … and that can be done from the pulpit, a classroom, in a bar, at a food pantry, at the Eucharist, or at the pool. As I continue to hear and to embrace what has been laid on my heart since I was in my late teenage years, I can only say that my ministry will take on many aspects, but a very large part of it will keep coming back to evangelism.

Now when I say “Evangelism” or “Evangelical,” I do not mean simply winning souls for Christ. Too often I have found that those who seek to actively convert those who are not Christian or go out and get people “saved” simply leave the newly minted Christian at the baptismal font or the altar with nothing but a bible in their hand and some well-wishes, resting firmly in the knowledge that another soul has been saved from the fires of hell.

That is SOOOOO not what it’s about.

In my mind, I feel Evangelism begins with listening to people, hearing and sharing in their sorrows and joys. It’s meeting them where they are and giving room for Jesus to step in and do his thing and not so much about peddling a given dogma or a set of doctrines to subscribe to. It’s realizing that a journey of faith is simply that … a journey. An effective evangelist does not simply mean having all these notches in your belt about how many people you supposedly led to Christ, for I don’t think anyone necessarily LEADS people to Christ … Christ draws people to himself. A more effective evangelist, to me at least, would simply be authentic and genuine and be with someone on their journey of faith for however long their paths coincide.

My evangelism experience has gone something like this … someone gets wind that I am a Christian and am active in my parish and for whatever reason asks to go to church with me after a bit of vetting with some basic questions about my own faith and what The Episcopal Church stands for. I say “OK, just let me know when,” and at some point, they go, attend the service, meet some wonderful people, ask some times they come back and others not. I haven’t personally stood with someone while they were baptized or been their sponsor for confirmation, but I felt that I was genuine and authentic enough for them to hear Jesus knocking at the door and that door opened up a crack. What has happened is that the seeking person or disaffected Christian now feels that they have someone to talk to and some place to go to explore their faith further. In one instance, someone eventually found a community which gave him an opportunity to give to them and he’s still going strong there contributing to the life of the parish, at least to my knowledge.

So … one thing I am going to speak with my Spiritual Director about is what it means to be an evangelist in a post post-modern world and what evangelism means and how this may be a significant mark of ministry .. which isn’t until mid-September, so the good news is that I have more time to mull this over and the bad news is that it’s another three weeks!

Oh, and if anyone isn’t visiting Fr Terry’s personal blog (aka Father Jake) I highly recommend it. Fr Terry’s blog’s focus is on evangelism within The Episcopal Church and he describes what I am talking about much, much better than me.



9 responses

27 08 2008
John-Julian, OJN

Dear RB:

There is a problem for me about your discussion of evangelism: that is, you have described no activity here that requires ordination. If that evangelism is what you truly feel called to do, that seems an insufficient reason to be ordained.

As a long-time priest, I’ve always been a little bothered by some of the liturgy for ordination (especially the readings). There are references and implications about preaching and evangelizing and the like, but little about “priesting”. Anyone can preach; anyone can evangelize; anyone can teach Christianity; anyone can even baptize; in fact, anyone can administer a parish (some few wise rectors have realized that and turned over administration to another competent person – ideally, a deacon).

But ask yourself what the things are that only an ordained priest can do that cannot be done by others — celebrating Eucharist, administering sacraments, providing some dimensions of “pastoral care”, a certain level of preaching/teaching which may require seminary training (although it’s the training that matters here, not the ordination), etc. Also face the reality that as an ordained person, your life becomes pretty much a public open-book — which (sadly) sometimes means cultural limitations and boundaries on behavior not generally imposed on the laity (e.g., the kind of car your drive; your presence in a tavern; the nature of your personal connections with parishioners; your marriage or committed relationship; etc.)

If you are drawn to these things, then I’d say you are probably facing a “priestly calling”. (I remember in my own case that I truly had a heart-deep longing simply to celebrate Mass –since the age of 8!)

I also remember a fellow-aspirant who when asked by the Standing Committee why he wanted to be a priest responded: “I don’t! God does!”

I guess I’m just underlining the Church’s recent insights into the nature of “ministry”: i.e., that “ministering” does not require Holy Orders — and all the baptized are “ministers” and (hopefully) “evangelists”.

27 08 2008
Reverend boy

Dear John-Julian,

Thanks for the insights and your honesty, and quite frankly I wish I have had more of this type of thing thus far. I am very much drawn to celebrating the Eucharist and the sacraments, but have shied away from saying anything about it here on this blog for various reasons, namely because being a priest is So Much More than that. When I’m up on the altar assisting my rector or the other clergy there is no where else I’d rather be. Part of the reason I don’t want say too much is that i don’t want to come off as a (for lack of a better term) “Church queen.” Lord, how I can’t stand that term!

What your fellow aspirant said really resonates within me and is something I have made clear in my process thus far. Acting on this is not exactly something of my own choosing.

I guess what sent me off on this little tirade was the getting a glimpse into the “my life is an open book” kind of thing.

Anyway, thanks again for your insights they are quite helpful.

27 08 2008
Grandmère Mimi

RB, I have not visited here in quite a while. Time constraints keep me away from my blog friends more than I would like. Sorry about that.

I know that I would not want to be a priest, nor would I want to be a clergy spouse, because of the “my life is an open book” thingy, and also because, although I love participating in the Eucharistic celebration, I would not want to be presiding .

However, I have from my teen years felt the call to be holy, holy not in the sense of being better than other people or more pious, but in the sense of being close to God, a friend of God. John-Julian, in very wise words, directs attention to the difference between what I described and a call to the priesthood.

I will pray for you, and I trust that God will guide you. Remember (paraphrasing Thomas Merton) that a desire to please God does, in fact, please God, and that if you take a wrong turn, God will draw you back onto the right path.

Love and blessings.

27 08 2008

I made a joke with my shrink, as I waited to hear the results of my psychological exam for ordained ministry. I asked, “So, am I crazy enough to seek ordination?” You really have to be a bit daft to put yourself through this process, but that’s a good thing.

You are where you are, embrace it – God does. What you are going through now, is part of the overall formation process; a process which, I hope, never ends.

28 08 2008

My friend, I am not sure you need to ask your SD what it means to be “evangelist in a post post-modern world.” It sounds like you are embodying that–by listening to people (and I love the Benedictine theology of listening), by being with them where they are and not where you wish they would be, and by your presence. Remember in John’s gospel, when Nathaniel asks Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And Philip responds, “Come and see.” All the people of God can do is to be present to our brothers and sisters and to invite them–with our words and our lives–to come and see the risen Christ. You’re doing that. Be a faithful Christian. God will show you the path–whether it is to ordination or not. Blessings, Sheila

30 08 2008

I try not to speak of it. My calling is to be me wherever I happen to be and with whom I happen to be. In that I hope to reflect Christ.

I might use words.

I probably won’t.

31 08 2008
Reverend boy

DP, that is the stance I have generally taken to discussing such things. Quite frankly, the only time I have really spoken about “calling” is here, except just to acknowledge that I feel as if I have one….the shape and form of whatever it takes is really up to God.


31 08 2008

Good to be back. I think. Actually, in many ways I’d rather be there. Now as to calling……….

1 09 2008
John Bassett

A couple reflections here (from a seminary-educated layman who is admittedly vaguely anti-clerical).

First, the presbyterate is fundamentally about leadership. The reason that the presbyter preaches and presides at the Eucharist is because she or he is the leader of the local Christian community. So, in assessing a candidate for ordained ministry the proper inquiry is whether she or he has the personal and interpersonal skills needed for effective leadership. Is the person able to articulate a vision of ministry for a group of people? Can the person listen effectively to the concerns of others in the community? Can the person deal with conflict without becoming either withdrawn or hostile? Being able to do these things is what really makes the difference between the effective and the ineffective clergyperson. A person in a leadership position who cannot lead frequently ends up harming the life of the congregation – sometimes quite seriously.

Secondly, I see vocation as a collaboration between the individual and God. Karl Rahner wrote about this – somewhere. As I recall, Rahner said that God’s call to us is fairly general. We are called in baptism to follow Christ and to be faithful servants of God. There is no particular vocation to specific offices or work. Instead, we need to create our own vocation. We have choices here, but not unlimited choices. We may be limited by our own lack of specific abilities, and we may be limited by our circumstances. But when we consider what we can do, and what we wish to do, we can envision a number of possible specific vocations, and from that group of choices we can pick the one which works best for us and for others.

Using this model, a person can have a call to ordained ministry if she or he has the spiritual and personal qualities which would make them effective in a leadership role, and if the person also wishes to be an ordained person. The role of the diocesan officials is to look at prospective candidates to assess their readiness for this office and to help the individual determine whether they are truly ready for this challenge. Also, when the number of possible ordinands exceeds the likely need for presbyters, the diocese needs to make some choices about who will be the best and pick accordingly.

I do not know you and I can hardly assess your readiness here. But there are so many people who should never have been ordained. They are generally pretty miserable people. And the parishes which have the misfortune to have them as rectors or even assistants are not happy or healthy either.

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