While this story of mine is one that is constantly becoming longer, evolving, and becoming more meaningful as God continues to work in my life, this call to ministry is such a significant part of why I write the things that I do, I wanted to dedicate a post on my blog to sharing it with you all, if you so desire to read more about why my heart is where it is.
While my parents took my sister and I to church every Sunday that they could, and had us say our prayers every night before bed and before dinner, it wasn’t really until my freshman year of high school that I began to desire more of a relationship with God. I attended my very first youth retreat when I was a freshman and it was when all of the youth group’s were gathered together in one room singing along with the band to the song, “How He Loves,” that I first experienced the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, in that moment, I told myself and I told God that I wanted to live my life for Him and His Church more than I had been already. I started getting more involved at my church in various ways – youth group, Bible studies, youth praise band – then came junior year of high school, when I began to see, hear, and feel God revealing this call to ministry.
I preached my very first sermon on Youth Sunday that year, and oddly enough, before then, I had been terrified of public speaking, yet, for some crazy reason, I volunteered to give the sermon. That was four years ago, and while I just barely remember the message that I shared with the congregation, I do remember the way in which God stirred up within me this passion to preach. To be before my fellow brothers and sisters and deliver to them a message God placed on my heart, was and is so humbling, and each time I get up to preach before a congregation, that same sense of Him stirring up that passion never fails to be present. That same year, I became much more involved with the worship aspect of ministry – serving communion, lay reading, attending church council and spiritual growth meetings, as well as prayer meetings. I simply loved being in the church, because there is where God seemed to always use me the most. The Church is where my faith was nurtured, where I first heard my call, as well as the very place where my faith and my call have both been supported, challenged, and affirmed the most. My home church has been my ‘home’ for practically my whole life – while I was born and baptized in Maryland, my family has attended the same church since moving here, where we celebrated my first birthday. So, that church has been my home for 18 years and counting. It would take an entire other blog post to sum up my love for that church of mine and the impact it has had on my life, so I’ll save that for a later date. But the people there truly are my family. We have all been through hell and back, both together and separately, but we have always had one another to lean on for support, love, comfort, and for the great reminder of who Jesus is and what his love looks like. It really is the people that makes up The Church – it is made up of God’s broken and imperfect children, who are in such desperate need of Him. It is made up of people who are called to go and make disciples and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is what my home church exemplified to me all these years, and they played a bigger role in my call to ministry than I could ever explain with words. I know that not everyone is a part of such an affirming church, so that is something I’ll never take for granted. I also know not everyone has a good experience in the church, but one of my prayers as a pastor someday will be that I would assist in providing the same church environment that my home church provided me for so many years, and continues to provide me.
So, as I said, my junior year of high school was when I really got started discerning this call, as well as when I got more involved with worship services. I began serving communion quite frequently, which quickly became a form of serving (and receiving) in which I felt closest to God. The idea of helping my brothers and sisters remember what Jesus did for us all on the cross for our trespasses, is so powerful. It is still, personally, one of the most meaningful ways to serve in the church, and for so many significant reasons. In high school, I struggled greatly with anorexia nervosa and I remember during my sophomore year of high school, it was so bad that I didn’t even want to go up and receive communion because I was so fearful of the calories in the bread and juice. In that moment was when I found myself needing to step back and realize that something had to change – I needed recovery, and I was confident that God was going to help me do just that. My faith played such a significant role in my decision to begin recovery, and I’m so grateful for that, because if it were not for my recovery, I would not be able to do what God has called me to do – I wouldn’t be able to write sermons, preach, serve, or do anything, and I likely would not be sitting here writing about this call. Not too long ago, my pastor asked if I would help him with communion because he was sick and didn’t want to touch the elements, and what a moment of clarity and assurance from God, as I lifted the cup and broke the bread. This pull and sense of call towards administering the sacraments is one of the many reasons I feel called to the ministry of an elder. (I’ll touch more on that later).
My senior year of high school rolled around and I shared two more sermons, both on Youth Sunday – one in the fall and then one in the spring before I graduated. The spring of senior year I shared my testimony with the congregation for the first time. I remember looking out into the congregation and seeing people in tears and the impact that that had on me – that sure did make me want to cry too, not because I was sad, but because in that moment was when I realized that the words I was speaking, or, the words God was speaking through me, were touching people, and speaking to them in ways they needed. This sermon was also one where I told my church family that I would be attending Liberty University for college! I was so excited – I knew that Liberty was a big Christian university and I could not wait to go there and take classes that would help prepare me for ministry. At that point, I knew God was calling me into ministry, and though I was not yet sure what area of ministry that was, I was confident that he wanted me in the Church. I should note that all I knew about Liberty, going in, was that it was big, beautiful, and the largest Christian University in the world (I did not know it had any denominational ties).
The summer before moving into Liberty, I was trying to decide what I would want my major at Liberty to be. After doing my research and praying about it, I decided that I would major in pastoral leadership, so, I signed up for the intro to pastoral leadership class and I worked my schedule around it. This was, however, until I was one day talking on the phone with the head of the department, who informed me that this specific major at Liberty was only for men. Confused was an understatement. I talked to my parents and they were just as confused as I was, so I called LU’s admissions to double check, because I thought, “this couldn’t be right.” (or legal). Admissions even had to put me on hold to go check and see if it was true, because the girl on the other end of the phone told me, “as far as I know, there are no restrictions on who can do that major.” She got back on the line to tell me, “it turns out, this major is only for men because of the Southern Baptist beliefs the school has.” I was shocked and rather confused, but I did my research. I found the scriptures where this belief comes from, that women cannot be head pastors. I researched, in depth, these verses, the Southern Baptist Convention, Liberty’s ties with the denomination, and read countless articles. I changed my major to Christian leadership and church ministries, and I simply told myself this was one belief the school has, doesn’t mean it has to affect me, and I left it. I in no way accepted the belief, I simply told myself it didn’t have to bother me, because God was calling me. I had never been introduced to this belief and despite what some may say, that is not because I was sheltered, it was simply because I grew up in a church and in a home which supported all of Gods children in whatever it was that they were called to. I will never stop being grateful for that. So, all of that aside, I went about my summer, continuing to do ministry in my church, and also, attended annual conference for my first time.
Annual conference had such a huge impact on my call. It’s funny, because the first year I attended this conference, it was voting year, so there was a lot of sitting around, waiting, and listening intently. Despite the voting and great amount of confusion that came along with hundreds of people gathered in one convocation center trying to figure out how electronic voting worked, I loved every minute of that conference. I drew so much energy from talking with different pastors and laity about ministry, various opportunities, their churches, my church, and so much more. I met our Bishop, at the time, and I’ll never forget him giving me a high five when I told him I was feeling this call into ministry. He is a great man! One evening, there was an ordination service, and while that service in and of itself was powerful and emotional, after the service, our Bishop told everyone in the room who was hearing God calling them to ministry to walk forward, meet him, and pray with one of the newly ordained elders or deacons. I walked forward with full confidence. Confidence that I had never had before. I will never forget that experience of walking forward and feeling as though Jesus was right beside me, holding my hand (because he totally was!) That moment of standing with a woman who had just been ordained that night and having her pray over me and this call I was hearing was so incredibly powerful, as was hearing all of the prayers being prayed around me for people who were also hearing a call, by people who had just taken this huge step in their call to ministry by becoming ordained. Walking away from that, I took a sign of relief, because God has just given to me such an affirmation of this call…
After annual conference, a couple months passed, and before I knew, I was all moved into Liberty – I loved it. I met some of the greatest friends, who are still some of my best friends. The campus was so beautiful, I loved the town that the school was located in, I found a wonderful church home away from home (Heritage UMC ❤ ) I loved my classes and I loved that I was going to be in classes that would help prepare me for a life in ministry. However, it was not long before I started getting into my Church ministry, Christian leadership, and Bible classes, where I quickly realized just how blatant the professors and school was about this belief that women and men have separate roles in the Church and in the home. Most of my first semester at Liberty was spent laughing off comments that students and professors would make on the topic. I coped with the irritating and hurtful affects of those comments by telling myself that it didn’t matter, as long as I knew that I was called and that God had my back. It worked for the time being, especially because I had another friend who was facing the same opposition for being a female striving to become a youth pastor. We laughed together, we researched more and more, we prayed, and we persevered.
Amid all of this, my pastor at the time back at my home church asked me if I would deliver the sermon on Christmas Eve at our 11pm service. I eagerly said yes and remember being so excited that I started preparing that sermon at least a month in advance. I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words how significant this was in my call story – my pastor, since day one of my call, had always been so encouraging and was always giving me opportunities left and right to live out my call, to learn, and to grow. For him to ask me to preach at a service that would lead into something as significant as Jesus’s birthday, was so special. It was a blessing, really, that amid all of the people telling me I couldn’t preach because of my gender, I had my pastor reminding me that I could by giving to me the opportunity to preach for the first time on a day that was not Youth Sunday. It was such a joy to have that affirmation from him and from God, in the midst of being in classes where I was being reminded that I couldn’t preach if men were present. I prepared that sermon and wanted it to be perfect (not that that’s possible), I remember telling myself I couldn’t mess it up, for it was Jesus’ birthday! In preparing and delivering this sermon, God made my call clearer than ever. Again, I looked out into the congregation to see tears, people nodding their heads, and I remember feeling humility like never before, because as gratifying as it was and always is to live out my call in this way, you always remind yourself that it’s nothing you’re doing and everything that God is doing through you.
Being home for a whole month for winter break and in a setting where I wasn’t taught or told I couldn’t do certain things in the Church because of my gender was something I needed. I was refreshed, renewed, and told myself I was ready to take on any adversity that I would face back at Liberty. I trekked on back to Liberty for a second semester of college I did not anticipate being nearly as difficult as it was. There was no laughing off comments, during that semester. There was no making light of the situation. The first I told you about? Our laughing together quickly turned into crying together on a weekly basis, out of hurt, confusion, and anger. When I say every day, I mean every day, I would hear a comment, have to answer a workbook question, or read a textbook / ministry book about why I could not do certain things, such as pastor a church, because of my gender. My friend and I resorted to saying we were business majors when people would ask, because we were exhausted from the debates, the arguments, the people telling us we were sinning, and the attacks we would get from people who would try to convince us that we were wrong and that, “God would never call a woman to be a pastor.” I would say my breaking point was taking an multiple choice exam in which one of the questions read as followed, “Women can do all of the following except” a) pastor a church b) pray c) teach other women.” I’m sure it’s obvious, but the answer they were looking for was letter a.
(But thank goodness we’re allowed to pray!)
I was definitely brought down by people – by Christian’s – lower than I ever thought possible, but because of this, my reliance on God grew more and more every single second of simply walking that campus. I ended up adding a major half way through the year (psychology). I have always loved psychology – it is actually my current major at my new school as well, because I know it will help me greatly in ministry, and I’ll be going to seminary after undergrad to learn all of that good stuff anyways! However, even in the psychology classes I was taking at Liberty, I was learning about gender roles, and even had a professor state on more than one occasion that women can do everything in ministry except be a lead pastor, and a woman’s place is, in fact, in the home while the husband makes money. (Because, after all, it’s definitely not the year 2017).
Amid my second semester, I did a practicum at the church I attended while I was away at school, which was such a light. Under the leadership of the church’s pastor and associate pastor, I was able to shadow them around, go on hospital visits, preach a sermon one Sunday, serve communion, lay read, and more. I was able to sit in on funeral preparations and talk with them about how they go about preparing their sermons. I so dearly loved and love the church family I gained there, and the pastors I had the privilege of having as mentors. I know my year at Liberty would have been much more difficult if it had not been for their love and support, and their ability to laugh at the things I was learning in my classes. While being in an environment where my call was picked apart, I was to live out that call in a church setting that was constantly affirming me, making me better, and helping me grow.
About a week before classes ended, I made the decision to transfer from Liberty. I didn’t know where I would go, or when, but I knew I needed to be elsewhere in order to pursue God’s call upon my life. That place hurt me a lot, but it taught me a lot too, even if most of those lessons were outside of the classroom. I learned how to listen to God’s voice above mans and I experienced what its like for the devil to try everything in his power to keep you from God. At Liberty, I came to know compassion, patience, and grace on whole new level that I hadn’t known before my year there. It’s ridiculous (in a good way) the way I can hear or see things that I strongly disagree with and be okay with it, simply because I acknowledge everyone doesn’t have to agree in order for us to love one another. I learned, there, the importance of being able to disagree with someone and still love them, as well as the importance of learning when to speak and when not to. I will forever be grateful for my year at Liberty, and am convinced it will only make me a better pastor. Because of this, even if I could change the year I had there, I would not. I know God let me go through all of that for many reasons, but one being because he knew in the midst of it all, I would see and hear him tell me what he wanted me to do with my life louder and clearer than ever.
So, when I finally decided to transfer, it was too late to transfer to another four year university and feel confident that was where I was supposed to be, so, I settled on community college. It was not my first choice, but it was a realistic one. I decided I would take gen ed classes there until I could confidently decide where to complete my undergraduate education. This ended up being a blessing in disguise in so many ways. The first blessing, of course, was getting myself out of a very unhealthy environment where I would likely end up doubting not only my call but my God more than ever. I realize that my time at Liberty was not the only time I will have to defend my call, but also realize that now, I am not choosing to put myself in the position of having to defend it on a daily basis and be torn down for it. Another huge blessing that came with being home at community college, was that I would also be back at my home church. When summer came around, I was asked to assume the role of co-lay leader at my home church. After a good amount of discernment and prayer and my decision swaying left and right, I decided that I would take on the role. At the time, our church was in the midst of getting a new pastor, because our former pastor was off to be the new D.S in another city. I loved our former pastor very much, and still do! He has been a mentor of mine since day one of my call to ministry and has never once stopped supporting me, and while I was sad to see him go, nobody is more fit for the position of D.S than him. So, my position as co-lay leader began when our new pastor arrived. The ministry of a co-lay leader I believe is best described as a ministry of presence, so this position involved myself, along with our other lay leader, attending meetings and communicating with our church’s pastor. What a joy and a challenge this position was, all at once. It gave me insight into the life of the Church and what all it takes to keep a church functioning properly more anything ever had before. I never thought of myself as someone who would be a lay leader at a church at age 19, and I know my age was a bit weird to some people, but this position taught me so much. It showed me areas and aspects of ministry and of people I had never seen before, and I watched so intently how my pastor handled situations with grace – I have certainly been blessed with incredible and Godly mentors, and pray to be just half the pastor all of them are someday.
I started getting my name out there and being open to guest preaching at various churches on my district as pastors would need someone, and I’ll tell ya what – every time I am asked by a pastor if I’ll preach at their church, I get just as excited as I did the first time I was asked to preach on Christmas Eve. God works through me when I’m serving in the church or when I am preaching in a way that I could never begin to take credit for, simply because I, myself, could never speak to people the way God speaks to them. Who am I to represent God, I don’t know, but I am grateful every day for this call, and for the love and strength of God which enables me to do what I do.
Fall of 2016 I was able to take more steps in the process to becoming a certified candidate for ordination while I was home and at community college, which was another huge blessing that came from being at community college. I was able to work with my pastor through a discernment guide, interview before DCOM and then again before SPRC. I went before my home church to receive at least 2/3 votes of approval from the local church, which, thanks be to God, I was able to do. I am still in the process and have a few more steps to complete, and it has been a joy. Leaving a school I had every intention of being at for four years and deciding to transfer was the largest leap of faith I have taken in life thus far, in my almost 20 years of life, yet it is one process that God has proven to be faithful through, and I cannot contain the love I have for Him. God knows what he’s doing, all of the time.
I was at community college for one semester, and now, I am a sophomore at James Madison University, and folks, I am absolutely in love. I’ll be majoring in psychology, which is a subject I love, as well as something I know will come in handy many times through out my life in ministry – it already has! During undergrad, I will continue to be involved at my school through intervarsity, which is a Christian organization at JMU in which I have already met some of the greatest friends. I will also continue guest preaching whenever the opportunity presents itself (or whenever I make an opportunity for myself). My goal is to be a certified candidate for ordination before I graduate college, and then head to seminary after college, where I will work towards receiving my Masters of Divinity in my pursuit to becoming an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. If you’re reading this and you know me, I just want to thank you for the role you have played in getting me here. I am in love with the God who placed each of you in my life and will never be able to thank Him enough for giving you to my undeserving self. Whoever you are, thanks for reading this, and thanks for tagging along with me on this incredible journey. Here’s to what is and what will be!
Grace and peace,