Note: To clear up some confusion my references to “The Deity Herself.” God is neither male nor female and Scripture records that God made Man and Woman in his image, not just Man. Likewise there are both male and female images used in the Hebrew which refer to God. I am not turning to “goddess worship” if anyone is concerned. I patently, as anyone who knows me well, understand God within the accepted bounds of the Trinity. My use of the female imagery is for the most part to get people to think and maybe actually notice that I am referring to God. Maybe too it will encourage women who have been hurt or victimized by men, especially abusive fathers to see that the Christian message is not something that excludes them. While some may not approve, or even think that I have succumbed to “political correctness,” I see this as legitimate use of the language, which because of its limited nature can never fully show us the glory of God. Peace and Blessings, Steve+
I’ve been asked by some how I was “called” into the ministry or my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain. I have done a lot, I mean really a lot of reflecting on this over the years. Honestly, I don’t really know how it happened. I mean I like sort of know, but the “how it happened” is pretty much a God thing I guess. Looking back I think I get it, but am still amazed that I get to do what I get to do. To use the words of Elton John “I’m still standing after all these years.” The reason I say this is because I’m NOT the greatest theologian, preacher, pastor, or even chaplain around. Likewise, I know that I am certainly not among the most “spiritual.” For me the Christian life takes work, really hard work. There are guys and gals around who who can do circles around me in most of these facets of the Christian life and ministry. Now on the other hand I don’t think that I drag up the rear, but I’m not going to over play my hand. There are things that I think that I do pretty well, but I consider myself kind of a journeyman.
General George Patton recounted in his memoirs that “he prayed that he would never get ‘the Call’ because he knew that he would have to leave the Army.” In some ways I think I can understand that. Now I know that I was called. In fact that call probably goes back to a pretty early age. I found among things grandmother had saved a short paper I had written in the 4th Grade about Easter. It was not about the Easter Bunny but it was about the Resurrection of Jesus. So I guess that I had some kind of faith stuff going on back that far. I think that the first inkling of a call came when I was 11 or 12. At the time the Roman Catholic Chaplain at our base took care of my Protestant family when a local church Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer. Toward the end of high I felt that call during a NJROTC cadet cruise from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back. I wrote my grand parents that I felt that I was being called to be a Navy Chaplain. I did a short term mission with a Christian Singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra in the summer of 1979. By the way I was the spotlight tech, I did not sing, the Deity Herself was wise enough not to inflict my “joyful noise” on our audiences. That trip was remarkable, but when I was getting ready for it my local church had a nasty split. As a result I got caught in the middle of it. I was in military parlance “collateral damage.” To tell the truth, that experience was kind of sucky.
That was rough, in fact my reaction was to withdraw. I left that church when I returned and started attending the church of my girlfriend. Patently she is now my ever patient and long suffering wife. The poor girl should have realized what she was getting into with me when about a month into our dating relationship I left for three months. Yet she has persevered.
What I figured during this time was that the Deity and I would make a deal. I would stay in church. I would even teach Sunday School, and that I would go in the military as a “good Christian officer.” She being the Deity of course would agree to that deal, everything would be copasetic and we would cooperate on my terms. Pretty arrogant for a 20 year old, but hey, like most young people I had my really dumb moments. She of course had other plans….
So I went in the Army because Judy forbade me to join the Navy. She had good reason. Her two sisters married knuckle-headed sailors who were always deployed. Neither of course were good husbands. She however let me go into the Army. I said “cool beans” and I thought I was on my way to fulfilling the deal I had made with the Deity. As I made my way through my young Army career it seemed that She used very unfair and devious means to rub the call in my face. Chapel friends would tell me that I needed to stop running from God. A good friend left the Army for seminary. In fact the good Deity ensured that I was miserable even though I loved being an Army officer. Finally in 1987 She used my Brigade XO, LTC Ike Adams to kick me in the teeth. We would run together at lunch. One day while running he asked: “Hey Captain, what do you think your doing with the rest of your life?” I responded in typical junior Army officer fashion: “Well, I’m going to the Advanced Course, take another Company and after that get promoted to Major.” I mean I had this planned out, and then he cut me off…”Well I don’t think that’s what God has in mind, you were called to the ministry and are running from it.”
If there was ever an “oh crap” moment, this was it. People had been pinging on me for five or six years about this, but nobody, ever ever dropped the bomb like that. I could have died. I had never mentioned anything about this to the man. Yet here he was, or God was, reading my mail. This was not fun. So I asked him: “How do you know?” I was stunned by the reply. “Well the Holy Spirit revealed it to me.” Now Ike was not and is not a flake. He was a Social Worker and career Army officer. He retired from the Army and went to Asbury Seminary where he got his M.Div and University of Kentucky where he picked up his Ph.D. He’s now the Chair of the Social Work Department at Asbury College. Shaken by the incident I took myself home. I told the long suffering Judy what had happened. She told me “Well I could have told you that.”
So a year and some change later I left the Army to go to seminary. I was accepted at Asbury, Austin Presbyterian and Southwestern Baptist. I chose Southwestern for the simple reason that it was cheaper. Back in those days before the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminaries, the Southern Baptist “Cooperative Fund” underwrote the majority of even non-Southern Baptist students tuition. What would have been a $5,000 per semester or so bill was reduced to $1,000 a semester give or take a bit depending on the semester. It was a good thing, because seminary was hell on earth. How we made it through that ordeal is beyond me. It was like going through the gauntlet of Klingon Pain Sticks in the Rite of Ascension.
First Judy got sick and had to leave her job, a crummy one working for the government in an office rife with sexual harassment. I left active duty during the Texas Oil bust of 1988. I couldn’t get a job. Seminary students without a technical skill were a dime a dozen, and the attitude of many employers was that they didn’t need you and if they did, they would not pay you much. We lost everything, I mean almost everything but our books and our dogs. We lost our house, our cars, and were pretty much poverty stricken despite working full time in social service agencies, night shelters, pizza parlors and part time as a janitor. Finally I had to take a semester off just to try to get back on our feet.
About that time I was accepted into the Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard. I got back in school, but once again came to a point were my job was drying up and with it the money I needed to go to seminary. I had been given my two week notice. I was the highest paid hourly worker, expenses had to be cut and I was gone. At that point I thought stick a fork in me, I’m done. I took my last finals that semester in absolute despair thinking that all had gone for naught. Walking down the hallway in tears I met a couple of my Professors, my Church history and Missiology professors. They saw me. Both simply let me cry and then prayed for me. I got home that afternoon, ready to quit. I figured that it was over and that I had failed. I was going to find a regular job and start over, maybe go back in the Army. As I walked in the door the phone rang and I got a call from a Christian ministry that Judy forced me to apply to. They offered me a job doing counseling. It paid better than anything I had since the Army and even had, get this, tuition assistance and medical benefits. Now we still had some more rough times but somehow God got us through this incredibly difficult but formative time in our lives. I think that She was ensuring that I would be able to care for those going through similar circumstances and never let me forget Her care and assistance as I slogged my way through seminary. The weird thing about seminary was that this independent evangelical guy came out on the Anglican and Catholic side of life. I had my Baptist and Assembly of God friends ask me if I was a “closet Catholic or Anglican.” Believe me, that was not a cool thing to be asked in a Southern Baptist Seminary that was getting hit hard by a Fundamentalist assault.
I finished seminary and was ordained in 1992, at which time I also became a National Guard Chaplain. I did a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas from 1993-94. That was an experience that helped me continue my education, formation and discernment at I continued to track in this Anglican-Catholic manner. On top of this Judy became Catholic in 1994 and we moved to West Virginia where I took my first post CPE Chaplain job. This was a contract position at a hospital in the town where my parents were from and where my both of my grand mothers lived. Unfortunately I worked bad hours and spent weekends on call at the hospital or with the National Guard or Reserves. I had no fellowship, pretty much no life outside the hospital. I was isolated and I knew that I did not fit in many of the churches in the town. At a chaplain conference I met a Priest from a Anglican “Continuing Church” who told me about the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1995. My friend told me that he thought that it would be a good place for me. I met with the local bishop and in July 1996 I was ordained as a Priest. It should have been September, but the time-line was moved forward when I was mobilized for the Bosnia operation. The day before my ordination my bishop made a comment to me. He said that this was no longer about simply “doing ministry.” He said it was about a Sacramental Grace that was ontological in nature. In other words, it was something that God would do to change me in that Sacrament.
When I was mobilized I lost my contract job. Thankfully, the Army managed to find ways to keep me employed as a base chaplain when I returned from Europe. This let to a string of events which eventually led me to the Navy Chaplain Corps. I know that my call is that of a Priest. That now is my identity, though I function as a Chaplain within that vocation. I have been blessed in every assignment with wonderful people and almost in every place a supportive atmosphere. My long military and Chaplain experience has helped me not screw up a lot since coming to the Navy. I had made plenty of mistakes in the Army. The cool thing is that like changing services is like going from the National League to the American League in mid-season. All of your stats start over. Kind of like the Bible says, “old things passed away, behold all things become new.”
I am a proud journeyman. I love what I do and the people that I work with and serve. At the same time one day I will retire from the Navy. I am sure that the Deity Herself will patently guide me into whatever She has for me as a Priest in her Church. I cannot imagine anything else. I love being a mentor to young people, especially young ministers and seminarians. If I have my way I hope to be serving as a Priest until the day that I’m really finished. This is not about preaching, it is about serving God’s people, in Word and in Sacrament in whatever capacity the church decides to use me until I am done. I figure that since Jesus and the Holy Spirit and a whole lot of persistence have gotten me this far that it must be right.
I hope that this somewhat explains my call and vocation as a Priest. It has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia: “A long strange trip.”