One year when I was a district superintendent in East Ohio, I asked all of my churches to have a clergyperson and a layperson talk about their call. Many congregations had never heard their pastor’s call story before that church conference. The many ways that God works in and through our lives to call us into full-time Christian service is amazing! That year the church conferences were incredibly inspiring for us all!
The Northern Illinois Board of Ordained Ministry has designated Sunday, November 12, 2017, to be Day of Call. Every clergyperson is encouraged to share his or her call story with the congregation. I believe that sharing these stories of our call produces amazing results!
For instance, when I was the pastor of a local church in East Ohio, I had a clergy friend whose name is Sally. She was going to be visiting our church one Sunday and so we decided to do a “dialogue sermon.” We called it “To Sally Forth.” It was the telling of our call stories and how God had sent us forth to serve. (You may know that the word sally means to journey out from where one is.)
Unfortunately, I remember more about what happened in the midst of the sermon than I do about what we actually said. Sally didn’t want to relinquish her notes so she placed them on a stand. The church didn’t have air conditioning and it was really hot. In the midst of the sermon, a breeze blew through and blew her notes under the piano. She wasn’t inclined to go under there and get them! We laughed all afternoon about what had happened because she had ended up preaching without notes which was the one thing she didn’t want to do!
But out of that sermon, a woman in the church revealed to me later that she had been discerning a call to ministry but didn’t know quite how to approach it. Our sermon opened the door for her, giving her language and permission to talk about it. She went to seminary and was ordained.
One of the things I learned during the course of the earlier mentioned church conferences that fall was that there wasn’t much “sowing the seeds” for ministry going on in most congregations. A consistent part of the story was someone, often a clergyperson, had said to them, “Have you ever considered ministry?” to them as a teenager or later in life. But clergy and laity weren’t as likely to do that as they had in the past, according to our conversations.
Several times the parent of a teenager would say that he or she mentions ministry to a son or daughter but knows that if someone else would, it would go a lot farther, inviting others in the church who see something in his or her child to say something. I hope that as part of the NIC Day of Call both clergy and laity will look around and think about people—young and not as young—who you see in ministry.
But I also believe laity have a calling on their lives, too. God’s call isn’t just to full-time Christian service or even to do the work of the church. God’s call touches on all that we do, all that we have, and all that we are. At one church conference, the pastor had a young girl about 14 years old share about how she perceived God was calling her. She was a beautiful, radiant young woman with long, curly strawberry blonde hair and a smile from ear to ear, even with her braces on.
She stood in front of a rather large group of adults and said that she didn’t know exactly what God wanted her to do with her life, but she knew God had a claim on it. She wanted to live her life in such a way that she would always be open to what it was that God wanted her to be and do.
After we all regained our composure following her heartfelt and moving witness to God’s call, I said the only thing that came to mind: “What she will be has not yet been revealed” (1 John 3:2). Answering God’s call is always an adventure and we never know quite where it will take us.
How has and is God calling you?
~ Bishop Sally Dyck
(You can find a video of the bishop’s call story at https://vimeo.com/umcnic)