From Here to Academy

24 05 2012

Quite a few people are rather surprised that I have many fond memories of growing up in the Baptist church my family attended. It was a small congregation, about 100 people or so, including children. The Southeastern United States, especially in rural areas, can be quite homogeneous.  Being raised in rural eastern North Carolina, was like being in a very large extended community. I have always enjoyed being in church.  I grew up on the many stories of Jesus and other biblical figures and developed a great love for hearing those stories repeatedly. Around the age of 7 or 8 I remember witnessing my first baptism. I did not understand exactly what it meant, but I knew somehow that it was important. Some years later, I asked questions about what Baptism meant and how it relates to all of the things I have been reading and learning about The reply I received from my parents was something like, “Well, son, it’s a symbol that you’re a part of God’s family. And when you are baptized, you are saying to God, to your family, and to your church that you want to follow Jesus.” And that is what I wanted to do. After a few conversations with our preacher, I was baptized in April of 1985. In the Baptist tradition then, through the stories of Jesus, it could be said that I learned of God the Son and how Jesus is a very real being. I did not know what following Jesus meant, but I knew it was something I wanted to do, whatever it turned out to be.

During high school, I began to feel a desire to go deeper into my spiritual life. Far from abandoning the faith I grew up with and was raised with, I embraced that faith, but felt something was missing. I began attending a Pentecostal Church. There I learned that God is found not only in church, but in every day life. One of the profound things that stuck with me was the idea that everything we do can be an act of worship and of prayer.

During this brief time with the Assemblies of God, I began to feel what can only be described as a “tug.” I did not know exactly what that tug was at the time, but it was similar to somehow knowing the importance of baptism when I was younger. For the most part I passed it off as experiencing a sense of renewal. Everything at the time seemed quite natural, and I was very happy to find such an exuberant expression of Christianity, but looking back, it is easy to see how what should be a way and life of simple joy can easily stunt someone’s spiritual growth if not nurtured properly. But, at the same time, there are many great and wonderful things I can say about this expression of the Church. They truly love God, and they love to worship Him and pray to Him. In the Pentecostal Church, there is a deep and abiding faith in the activity of the Holy Spirit, a belief that God still works through that same Spirit to continue the work that was done at Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago. This faith in the work of the Spirit through the body of Christ and through the Church laid a foundation for my coming to understand God’s work in my life through my own baptism and then my confirmation in the Episcopal Church some years later. Looking back, I can say that the Pentecostals taught me about the God the Holy Spirit and how we are able to experience God at work in the world.

At the suggestion of my father and grandfather, I applied for admission and was later accepted to the US Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, NY.  I got involved in the Christian Fellowship Group and helped with Bible Studies, leading in worship and in other activities, an involvement which lasted for the duration of my time at the Academy. When it came time for class officer nominations in October of 1992, I was voted in as class chaplain and took it upon myself to write a weekly column posted on our barracks bulletin board. During my three-year tenure at the Academy, I traveled quite a bit (Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean) in my sophomore and junior years and experienced the wonder of Creation and different cultures and what it means to be the “other.” During this time that the “tug” I mentioned earlier began to become more real and wondered if I was sensing a calling of sorts. I certainly did not consider myself to be particularly holy, or even somehow “special” in the way people normally associate with people called to the clergy. But, I knew that I wanted to do something in a life of service to God. What really struck me about my time at the Academy was how diverse the world really was. It was my first prolonged contact with Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Atheists and Agnostics. I was fortunate to see the breadth and depth of Creation and how the Church existed in various cultures. At the Academy, I learned about God the Father, creator of a very diverse heaven and earth and what it means to be called part of God’s family

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