240114 – A Calling

Yr B ~ Epiphany 2 ~ Ephesians 3:1-12

I’m going to break a cardinal rule of preaching today. I’m going to make it all about me. Well, it’ll start being about me, and then it’ll be all about you. The topic is ‘calling’. Usually, when we talk about ‘calling’ in church we’re thinking about the calling of the disciples, and then by extension our own calling. Today, I’m going to be a bit more personal.
I had the occasion a few months ago to recount the story of my calling into ministry.

For those who might not know, I had a previous career as a High School Music teacher for 15 years before I became an ordained minister. I loved that job, and I was pretty good at it. We had built an excellent program, and I personally had groups perform at the highest levels in national competitions. I was set for life. Until…I started to feel a nudge. I’d always been a church person, right from the cradle when I accompanied my Mom as she taught kindergarten Sunday School. I sang in church choirs, and was an active lay person on our church board. All the usual churchy stuff.

Over time though, things shifted, as I learned more and more to perceive and receive God’s Presence. It came out through music, of course. I started writing faith-based songs, and touring around as a musical pulpit supply person, and recording CDs to share, and doing small concerts. In time I felt like I needed to know more to be able to communicate more deeply about faith things, so I took a theology course. That didn’t work out (toddler, new baby, bad timing) but it did increase the nudge. Eventually, over time, the list of answers to the question “What’s stopping you from being a minister?” got smaller and smaller. So I did discernment, went to theology school, and shifted careers – at 40.

I wasn’t disenchanted with being a teacher – I had just experienced a new calling. It was a calling something like Paul experienced, I think. As he describes his work I feel like the words could have been mine.

Here’s Ephesians 3:7-10 from The Message translation:

7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to (the gospel). It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.

I’m grateful that I get to do that every week! So grateful!
I studied, and grew, and deepened.
I discerned a call to ordained ministry – and started to express that calling.
I have served in ministry as a musician, a helper, and a preacher, for 20 years now.
I have had the privilege of serving in several congregations – in Peterborough, in Ottawa, in Nova Scotia, and here at Faith United.

And I’ve had the privilege of contributing at the Presbytery/Regional and National levels – culminating in a 10-year stint on General Council Executive, and being the Chair of the organizational team that put together General Council 43 in Oshawa in 2018. How awesome was that!

But my greatest ministerial triumph, (bragging, satisfaction,) has been what we’ve done together here at Faith United! Wow! Times a thousand!!!!

When I arrived here in October of 2007 there were around 70 people on a typical Sunday (and online church didn’t exist yet). Over time we expanded that – in fact, doubled the congregation.

Nowadays, Faith United is an entirely new entity – yes, built on the past, but in reality you are an entirely new thing – grateful for what came before, but thriving on who you are together in the now, and enthusiastically looking forward to who you’ll be together in the future.

Over the past while I’ve been in a deep discernment about the future of the church, and this church, and my place in it all. And what I have discerned is that like Moses leading the people into the Promised Land, I won’t be going there with you. I have discerned that it is time for me to retire.

I know that’s not what you wanted to hear. I’m sorry for that. But I also know that for me, it’s time – and for those of you who have retired, when you know, you know. My last Sunday will be on June 30th – 6 months from now.

The ministry description you crafted back 18 years ago, in 2006, was brilliant. It astutely named what this congregation’s hopes and dreams were, and it projected a vision for who and what Faith United hoped to become. But there was no minister attached to it, yet. When I read it I was drawn to it deeply. I found my dream church! Eureka! And we fit! I am so grateful. I am so blessed. Faith United has been the most wonderful way for me to express my sense of pastoral ministry – and I cannot imagine any other place where I would have had the opportunity to flourish in the ways I did. THANK YOU! This place has been my life’s work, and I’m so incredibly grateful.

Ministry is a calling – a sacred calling that demands your whole self. Ministry is not a 40 hour per week job. There are no time cards. There’s no down time. A minister’s role is a ministry of presence, and that presence doesn’t clock out after any number of hours, or when you leave the church building. That ministry of presence is an indescribable privilege. To be invited into the most intimate parts of people’s lives – to journey with them through the good times, and especially through the hardships, and most tenderly through the deaths – is a blessing – and a burden. It is a sacred blessing, and also a burden of care and compassion. And it takes a toll. I am so, incredibly honoured by the lives I’ve had the wonderful privilege to be part of – and by the services of remembrance, and love, and worship that I’ve had the honour to be part of. Ministers carry the burdens of their congregations as they go. That has been, and continues to be my privilege. But, I will confess, it is heavy. And I’m ready to lay it down.

I’m ready for my next season – a season of retirement. I will probably accept the odd preaching engagement – after a loooooonnnnngggg rest – but I have no desire to be in pastoral ministry with anyone else. It’s not another church I’m craving. I have no aspirations to move “up” to a bigger pulpit. After you’ve served at Faith United everything else pales in comparison. I have said for years that I have the best gig in the whole Region.

No doubt you’re wondering why, and why now? That answer is long and multi-faceted. Part of it is weariness, but there are other things tugging at me too.

If I’d remained as a Music teacher, my first career, I’d already have been retired for 3 or 4 years. In my family life, my partner retired 2 ½ years ago, and our children have all moved away and established their adult lives, and so we chose to move out of the suburbs and into the country. I LOVE being in the country. It calls to me. It nourishes me. I don’t want to leave it.

My wife is the epitome of a person who is doing retirement perfectly! She has thrown herself into a creative expression, via clay, pottery, and she is having the time of her life. It is inspiring to watch her. And yes, I am envious of her freedom, and her joy.
For me, what’s calling me is music.

I have always been a musician with an ulterior motive. In university I studied saxophone – but not because I wanted to be a virtuouso saxophonist – I did it because it was a means to an end. That end was to be a High School Music teacher. It was fantastic! I can play every single instrument in a concert band – flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, drums – I have all that in my arsenal – but I traded it for ministry. I missed it a little at first – well, really the biggest thing I missed was my jazz band, which was what made me tick – but in the end, it wasn’t hard to leave behind, because I was embracing ministry!!!

In this coming season of my life I want to immerse into that musical world. I have a ridiculously wonderful plethora of sound-scaping tools to create an amazing world of music in astounding ways – but I don’t have the time, or energy, or creative capacity, or mental openness and freedom to allow myself to give myself over to those creative impulses and see what happens.

I have a beautiful wall full of guitars that each do something special, and all want to be played. I want to invest the time and energy, and commit my full self to become the guitar player I’ve always aspired to be; the musician I’ve always aspired to be.

I yearn to immerse myself in music, the way my spouse has immersed herself in clay.
And I want to enjoy my house, my time, this season of my life.

It’s not that I don’t feel a calling to ministry anymore; I still expect to do Regional and National projects, just not in an ongoing pastoral ministry form. It’s kind of like my shift from teaching – it’s that another calling that has bubbled under the surface my entire life, has now broken through and is ‘demanding’ my attention. This time it’s a calling to make music.

I taught for 15 years. At the end of June, I’ll turn the page from being in Pastoral Ministry for 20 years. Next, I will start my third working career as a full-time musician, for, oh, about 25 years, I hope.

Ok. That’s a lot about me. Now it’s time to talk about you. The obvious question is: “What happens to Faith United now?”

Council has already been preparing for a season of visioning this Spring. Now you’ll be able to enter into that without my shadow hanging in the balance. You’ll get to dream about what shape ministry here might take without having to account for my strengths or shortcomings. I do several things very well, other things less well – every minister is like that. In the coming time of visioning you can work from a clean slate, just imagining and articulating who you want to be as Faith United, and then ultimately you’ll write a new job description to seek a minister to help lead you through that new season – just like I did when I arrived back in 2007. This is the way of things. The Region (our wider church body) assigns a person to help navigate all this.

I’m here until the end of June, so there’s a good amount of time to answer questions and make a good transition. I’ve also been here over 16 wonderful years, so having a buffer between me and the person who will journey with you in the coming years to help you enliven your vision is probably an excellent idea. You’ve already recently had a taste of life without me, as you enjoyed the wonderful leadership of Rev. Nancy when I was on sabbatical in 2022. I know the future seems unsure and scary right now. But we have time to figure it out.

I’m a big part of this place, and this place is a big part of me – but YOU are Faith United, together. You have a calling too. You are called to be God’s people in this time and place. You are called to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world. This has always been a congregation-led ministry. That’s what makes it so strong, and vibrant, and vital. And I know it will continue to be all those things in the future. It’s because love, love, love is a calling – and it’s a calling that Faith United embodies so comprehensively. And for that, I have always been unspeakably grateful. Amen.