Rubber, meet Road.

25 05 2012

To get a better understanding of what we mean when we say a sense of calling or vocation, let’s think in general terms first…

Have you ever done something or have been a part of something that brought you so much fulfillment that you could not think of doing anything else?  I mean to the point where what you were doing or were a part of touched you so deeply it is like you are discovering that THAT GREAT BIG  THING is actually a part of you to the very core. That is how I can best describe a sense of vocation.

Well, actually you could think of doing something else with your time and talents, but after having done that GREAT BIG THING THAT WAS SO AWESOME your life would be all right, and you might even be happy, content and comfortably well-off, but you wouldn’t feel complete.    Not everyone has this sense.  Or maybe they do and they just don’t act on it.  It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a religious life, per se.  One of my dearest friends has spent his entire life promoting the Fine Arts and Music in one form or another.  That is who he is and what he stands for.  That is vocation as well.
As you may have read earlier from the earliest stages of my life, I have been involved with the Church of God in its many varied expressions and felt the stirrings of vocation in my late teens. Due to internal conflicts regarding my sexual orientation and the fact that no expression of the Body of Christ where I felt at home was ready to have an openly gay person serving in ordained ministry, thoughts and aspirations of ministry were put aside until I came to The Episcopal Church. All of this still begs the questions, however, “At what point did I feel the sense of calling? At what point did I sense that God was calling me pursue ordination in The Episcopal Church after all this time?”
One Christmas Day, my parish in New York, was having its regularly scheduled service. Due to an oversight on the acolyte and altar guild rota, I found myself serving as serving as Crucifer, Lector, Acolyte and Chalice Bearer, some of these duties I had not done before! I was able to get through the service with some help from our priests and going by memory of watching those in the altar party. Once the elements of the Eucharist were prepared I took my place alongside the clergy as the Rector began the Eucharist. As the choir and congregation began to sing the hymn “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord,” it was almost as if the veil between heaven and earth had become much thinner. I felt as if I were standing in exactly the right place at the right time and there was nowhere else that I should have or could have been. This sense continued while the Eucharist continued, especially as I offered the chalice to those who came forward to receive. It was this experience, this sense of “NOW” which reawakened my sense of calling which had been dormant for many years. Little did I know that the sense of “NOW” was only the first step to a long process. Much like the muscles in our body, gifts for ministry and leadership which are not put to use need to be put back into shape or even rehabilitated before they may be put to work for the Kingdom.

So, what else?

24 05 2012

And so that is how I arrived here two years ago. The anniversary of my arrival is coming up in a week, so I guess it is natural one spends some time reflecting on how they got to where they are and where they might be going after such a huge move.

I suppose it makes sense at this point to talk more about what I have been doing since I got here.

My Facebook friends know that I got involved with a Ghost Tour of all things and that is currently the main way I earn my living. The juxtaposition of wanting to be a priest and being the manager of a Ghost Tour has caused more than one eyebrow to be raised I can assure you! I do have to say, though, that i have learned quite a bit about leadership while I’ve been in this job, especially when it comes to dealing with the many different personalities of the people you work with.

Also, more than one person has asked me about that sense of calling thing that led to believe this totally crazy and insane move from There to Here was something worth doing. So perhaps I can talk about that next.

From the Crossroads of the World to the End of the Road

24 05 2012

I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church and became a member of Grace on May 1, 2005. Confirmation held special meaning for me, as it symbolized a commitment to the life and work of the Episcopal Church. My involvement with my previous faith communities thus far had been in the music programs and choirs, and I had originally sought out this avenue as a way of participating in a ministry of sorts. As it turned out, my parish was rather strict about requirements for membership in the choir and the number of members it had. This actually turned out to be a blessing, for I was able to pursue opportunities for ministry that I had either had not tried or had little involvement. Before I knew it, I was a lay reader, a member of the Altar Guild, heading up the refreshment time for our Sunday evening service, and a member of our Outreach Committee!

After quite a long journey, I had achieved a certain plateau in my life. My “day job” as an executive assistant in a private investment bank afforded me a decent standard of living, internal wounds had been healed, and I found a church where I could be involved. While enjoying the fruits of my labor, I began to reflect on my life and how I had gotten to this point, and invariably I would go back to my time at the Academy where I enjoyed a ministry of my own, to some degree. I began to feel that tug again towards a life of deeper service. I find myself experiencing a certain “flow” in the work of the church, as well as a satisfaction in working to advance the kingdom of God through a lectionary reflection which I periodically post on my blog, and continuing to participate in the various services in my parish, the sense of calling has only gone deeper. I entered into the discernment process at Grace and worked with the Discernment Committee and the Canon for Ministry to develop what they referred to as the “muscles” for ordained life. Four years later, I began to feel frustrated as it seemed that goal posts which were set and later met were moved down the road a farther. I do not believe that either my parish or my diocese at the time questioned my commitment to The Episcopal Church or a sense of calling, but issues of supply and demand for clergy as well as the escalating costs of seminary kept delaying the process.

In the fall of 2009, I received notice that I was to be laid off. After some soul searching and conversations with friends, the priest who was shepherding me through the discernment process, and my spiritual director, it was suggested that this might be a good time to perhaps look at another diocese to continue as the process in New York would most likely stretch out another five years. One of the suggestions was the Diocese of Southeast Florida, as I had been vacationing in Key West for a few years and had gotten to know the good folks at St. Peters as well as Fr. Don Sullivan. Soon, everything began to fall into place as more and more signs pointed towards leaving the city I love and moving into a completely new environment. I arrived in Key West on June 1, 2010, leaving most of my worldly possessions behind and carrying only what would fit into the back of a jeep

From Calvary to Grace to Trinity

24 05 2012

In addition to singing in the choir during my two years at Calvary, I was active in other parts of the music program including singing the bass part in a Southern Gospel quartet which I had put together. There was a great sense of teamwork among the four of us … one of us would pick out the songs from old hymn books, another would re-work the harmonies to fit an all male ensemble, and then we would sing during the offertory at services or during special events. Music has always been a core part of my spiritual life. I find that I enjoy singing in small groups more than large choirs or solo pieces. I might have stayed at Calvary Baptist for quite a while, or even considered membership but unfortunately, the messages we began to hear from the pulpit became more and more politically charged as elections drew nearer. I began to seek out other places of worship in an effort to hear the gospel rather than a political agenda cloaked with scripture and other ecclesial trappings. While I was on my search in the Summer of 2004, I noticed that along with the healing and the integration I experienced, I discovered that my outlook on life and my beliefs on what it meant to follow God had changed somewhat, and I began to visit other mainline churches in addition to more moderate leaning evangelical churches. It was at this time that I began to feel drawn to The Episcopal Church. After visiting a few parishes such as St Bartholomew’s near my office and St Clement’s near my home, I ultimately decided to make my home at Grace Church, having discovered it quite by accident some years ago while wandering around the East Village late at night and lost.

I was deeply moved by the liturgy, the music, the appreciation for education … all the things that make up the very best of Anglicanism. I found a breath of fresh air coming into my soul. Here was a place where worship was of great importance; not just worship in song, but through common prayers and scripture readings. The Eucharist, especially the Eucharistic Prayer itself, became even more meaningful in a liturgical setting. My appreciation of the Book of Common Prayer deepened as I explored its different rites of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Eucharist, as well as the other liturgical forms it carried. I found the sermons to be thoughtful, intelligent and pertinent to the season of the Church year and the readings of the day. Another thing which I found to be a great strength of this church is its desire to be Christ to others in this world, which was reflected in its many outreach and relief programs. Coming from traditions where the normal course of events was to divide and walk apart in the wake of a disagreement, I felt I had entered into a place where no part of the body of the Christ is easily willing to say to the other, “I need you not.” When the Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion is working and acting at its best, I believe that, like with the before mentioned ensemble singing, we get yet another glimpse into what God is like as Trinity: a being of unity, as well as a social deity in relationship, communion and conversation with “God’s-self.” Different voices, different parts, but all singing the same song

Crisis, Reconciliation and Renewal

24 05 2012

When I was younger, Dad and I liked to play ball every now and again in our yard. One of these typical days (I do not recall exactly when, but I must have been about 12 or 13), I remember asking him, “Dad, what does it mean when someone is gay?” Dad thought for a moment, and then finally said, “It’s when a man has the ability to love another man or a woman has the ability to love another woman the same way your mother and I do.” “Oh, ok,” I replied. “That sounds all right, then.” I still do not know what my father thought when I asked that question. This part of who I am and how it has affected the relationship I have with my parents moved from typical denial, to anger, to shame, and finally acceptance and welcome. Looking back on my youth, there were hints that I was not “like the other kids” in this regard, but by and large I either ignored them or did not notice them until I was at the Academy.

I was enjoying a ministry at the Academy with the weekly columns, the fellowship group, the bible studies, but this realization that I was a gay man marked the beginnings a crisis of faith. I did not seek out help for fear of being ostracized by the Christian community or being expelled from the Academy, so I tried to sort it out on my own, with limited success. I ultimately realized that who I was did not change anything about what I wanted to do as far as serving God. One of the two friends I confided in offered some encouragement. “Don’t worry,” he said. “When you follow Christ, you become more and more the person you are meant to be. You become more and more yourself.” I eventually did seek some informal counseling through the chaplains at the Academy. They could see how much this was troubling me and were very full of compassion. At their advice, I requested and was granted a leave of absence from the Academy. In June of 1995, I left the Academy. I got a job at the local mall on Long Island where I discovered a knack for the various aspects of merchandising. I decided not to return and instead decided to make my own way in the world. Eventually, I worked my way through another school while continuing to support myself.

It was here that I also encountered a strong sense of hostility towards the Church and to God, even among very good people. Living in fear of rejection by two cultures (the gay community and the Church) which both define a major part of who I am and are also rather hostile to each other at times is not a pleasant way to live. But, I made the best of it. I did make friends in the secular world, and I did continue to go to church and participate in the life of the community as best I could. I still did not know how I could reconcile the two halves of myself, for while I knew the Scripture was clear on the extent of the work of Christ, saying that nothing could separate us from the love of God (Romans 8), it was also clear on certain prohibitions of behavior. Could one really trump the other? Living in these two exiles continued for quite a long time.

In June of 2002, I had moved into Manhattan after landing a job as an executive assistant at an investment bank and adjusted to the change in fiscal dynamics required. At long last, I began to seek out a form of healing the two sides in earnest. I started attending church again regularly and got involved in the choir at Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan. By a stroke of luck I came across an organization in March of 2004 which had helped me to find what I had been seeking all of this time. Yes, there are answers to why the Bible says what it says, and yes, the power of the Cross and the power of Grace are greater than we can put our minds around. Going through the process of reconciliation and integration are beyond the scope of this biography, but suffice it to say, this was the first time in a very long time where I knew wholeness. One half of me did not conquer the other half … the two halves merged and I became one person again. And that sense of freedom and liberation, I think, has made me grateful for what God has done in Jesus Christ more than I ever had before

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

Characters in a Never-ending Story

23 05 2012

The Bible is a lot of things. One of those things is a collection of stories of how people grow and develop, and what God does in people’s lives when God steps in and meets them in their trials, their doubts, their joys, their triumphs…..

Storytelling is how God inspired the writers of the Bible to explain who God is, and what he is about, and why he insists on not giving up on the messy folks made in God’s image. In the same manner, by hearing or reading about someone’s story, you can find out everything about them. And so, in order to properly re-introduce myself to the blogosphere, it is only meet and right to tell you mine: how a country boy from North Carolina found himself in New York City and then later found himself in Key West.

What I plan to do is to create a series of posts and then consolidate them into a series of links on a separate page of this blog so anyone can see at-a-glance the meandering pace that life has a funny way of placing you in the most unlikely locales……

So without further adieu, we shall start as Julie Andrews would say, “at the beginning….a very good place to start…”

Footnote: Be glad i am not starting as Charles Dickens would… Namely, “I was born. To begin my life with the beginning of my life….I was born.”