I was told a few years ago by a clergy mentor to remember often why I originally got into full time pastoral ministry. In those challenging times, moments of doubt, or during transitions, recall how and when God first called you I was told. It was good advice then. It is good advice now.
During the past week, I have been blessed with opportunities to revisit my call to ministry, to go back to the beginning. I was able to spend time on the campus that meant so much to me during college and even now. It all started my Freshmen year at the University of Saint Francis. I was invited to attend Campus Ministry by my friend Don Clemmer, who now works at the United States Council of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. He simply asked if I would check it out with him. I jumped at the opportunity to try something new.
My years in Campus Ministry were formative for me. I learned about faith, ministry, and spirituality. My Sophomore year I was invited to be a Peer Minister where I would offer prayer and encouragement with fellow students. It was that experience that first planted the seed within me to begin to discern a call to full time ministry, where I could pray and offer encouragement with others in need.
As I ministered to my fellow students, served the homeless in Fort Wayne (which was also apart of my Campus Ministry experience), and talked with others, I sensed God calling me to serve the church full time. I began by talking with my United Methodist pastor about the process. I talked with my Episcopalian friends and priest at the downtown church I attended for Friday Mass nearly every week. I also asked for the input and spiritual direction of Rev. Dr. Steven Crain, the Catholic priest on campus and the Sisters of Saint Francis. They were all a part of my discernment and movement toward further service and study in my own tradition, the United Methodist Church.
My journey in ministry wasn’t taken alone. I had many people, all brothers and sisters in Christ from different Christian traditions, who were walking alongside me, praying for me and encouraging me every step of the way. I believe now more than ever that the journey was not meant to be traveled alone. We need others, companions on the way. Perhaps this is why Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. We were meant to be together.
Yesterday I was able to visit the University of Saint Francis again. I was greeted by the familiar and friendly faces of Sr. Elise Kriss and Sr. Marilyn Oliver. It was such a joy to spend time with them. It brought back similar memories to my time on campus speaking to the Sisters about my future and my call to ministry. It was a joy to make a new friend during my visit to campus as well, as I met the new Director of Campus Ministry, Scott Opperman. After spending time in the Brookside Manor (formerly the Bass Mansion Library), I walked across the lake to visit with my former boss Robin Huffman in the bookstore.
It was such a joy to see new old friends and make a new friend, but a trip to campus wasn’t complete without a trip to the Saint Francis Chapel. I spent countless hours in this Chapel praying, reading Scripture, and listening for the Spirit of God during college. I sat in front the San Damiano Cross seeking the heart of Christ. I feel such a connection to Saint Francis who sat in front of that very cross in Assisi, Italy. The cross spoke to him and told Francis to “rebuild my church.” While the cross in the campus Chapel didn’t speak to me in a literal sense, Christ certainly spoke to me through my time gazing upon the San Damiano. As I sat in that holy space once again yesterday, I sensed a similar peace and call to go and serve God’s people.
A journey back to campus wouldn’t be complete without talking to Sr. Geraldine Hartke, who was another listening ear and encouraging spirit to me during my discernment and even today. Today, Sr. Geraldine lives in Mishawaka, so I decided to give her a call. Before I was able to ask for her prayers, she assured me of her constant prayer for me and my transition.
This morning, I had one final blessing. I had the chance to visit with Rev. Dr. Steve Crain who was my theology professor and mentor in college. He now teaches at McPherson College in Kansas, so anytime spent with Steve in person is a blessing. It was a great joy to visit with him today.
This week has been filled with blessing upon blessing. I continue to be thankful for the connection I have with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I recognize how my journey into ministry was not taken alone, nor is this transition into a new place of ministry taken alone either. It was good to take a pilgrimage, if you will, back to the beginning, and give thanks for that place and those people who were instrumental in my early stages of discernment during college. It is a blessing to go back to the beginning…..