First Assignment – Spiritual Journey

So the discernment trainer, Archdeacon of Montana, said my first assignment was to complete the spiritual journey statement.  Did that, back in November, so here it is here.

My childhood was great, and filled with the knowledge of God. I am one of the fortunate few who was provided with the absolute knowledge and trust that God exists, and to see everything within the world as connected to the Divine. My parents taught me to recognize God in people, in nature, and as the voice to whom I could talk at any time of the day or night. They also taught me that my responsibility was to help others recognize the same things. Early on, my mother learned that if I couldn’t be convinced otherwise, my desire to not disappoint God was huge, and the concept that something I was doing would disappoint Him wasn’t something I could stand. As a child, I was one of those painfully shy creatures, much more comfortable fading into the woodwork than ever calling attention to myself. I loved to read, and the army schools didn’t know what to do with me from 2nd through 5th grade (mom didn’t believe in allowing children to skip grades), so I got sent to the library most of the time. I was quite happy there, helping the librarian re-shelve books, and working my way through the various sections as I went. Learning became a part of life at that point — not necessarily to put the knowledge to any particular use, but simply to learn because it was there. Mom would throw my younger brother and I out of the house to get fresh air, and I’d take a book, climb a tree (kept me away from my brother), and read.

So, that gives you a pretty clear picture of me — bookworm, wallflower shy, quiet. Like most Irish redheads, however, I also inherited the temper, and occasionally shocked people when angry enough.

I got to high school (my 4th one) and my mother decided to try taking on my shyness. Being in a DoDDS school system, new people were arriving all the time, of course, and my mom told me that I was being selfish in being shy. These new kids didn’t know anyone at the school, and I should introduce myself and help them, and I wouldn’t disappoint God by mistreating His creation. I’d actually learned what she was doing by that point, but still couldn’t stop myself from doing as she said — she never pulled the “God card” unless she felt it was important. So, I learned to introduce myself, see where they’d come from, what kind of interests they had, and then I’d introduce them to people with similar interests — went back into the woodworks after that, my “job” being finished, of making sure that they were not lonely or left out. That was the pattern I had throughout my last 2 years, and unbeknownst to me, people that I considered merely acquaintances actually looked at me as a friend. (German has a better word for it — Bekannte — people you know more than an acquaintance, but they weren’t quite on the same level as friends.) As time went on, I apparently knew most of the school, and the getting to know people when they arrived was fun, so I started my high school newspaper. Not many people actually knew *me*, but I knew them, and they felt that I’d taken an interest in them, so …

It was also during this time that I seriously contemplated becoming a nun. The concept of constantly being in service to God truly appealed to me. My father had always taught us that you never say anything at church by rote. You may memorize it, but it was a disservice to God and disrespectful if you said it by rote, without thinking about what you were saying. My family was very active in every church we attended, starting with Lutheran when I was 4, changing to Episcopal when I was 12, and Catholic when I was 16. I always intended to be a teacher, and knew that I could go that route through the convent. I talked with nuns and the priest about the process, read books about priests, monks, nuns, etc. And in the middle of my senior year, I began babysitting a 2-week old baby. She was priceless, red hair, blue eyes, and sometimes I’d get her at really odd times of day, so she went along with my family wherever we were going. I had a boyfriend (also Catholic, and expected to go into the priesthood by his family, so I wasn’t particularly popular with them ), with blond hair and blue eyes, and when you’re attending a military chapel, we could easily pass for a young married couple with the baby with us. I liked that feeling, and decided that while I’d still become a teacher, I wouldn’t go the route of the convent. I still had (and always have had) a strong desire to serve

Later in my 20s, I discovered the Baha’i Faith. There’s a lot to that particular story, but probably what applies here is the concept that work performed in the spirit of service to God’s creation (man, individually or as a whole), was worship. This was obviously the perfect religion for me. It recognized the various paths to God as all heading to the same place. It allowed and expected service — there is no clergy in the Faith. And there was so much to learn! There was a list given to me by the wife of the first Baha’i I’d met — she had two sons, close to my son’s age, and that list was probably what kept me from becoming a Baha’i for almost 2 years — I didn’t feel I could live up to the expectations. The list is called “To Live the Life”, and in the same way Christians look to Christ as their exemplar on how they should behave, Baha’is look to Abdu’l Baha (literally translated “Servant of the Glory”), who created the list. The first thing on the list probably gave me the most problem — “To be the cause of grief to no one.” Just by becoming a Baha’i, I would cause a terrific amount of grief to my parents. The other one that gave me fits was “To be servants of each other, and to know that we are less than anyone else.” Being a servant was the easy part. But to consciously consider myself less than someone else? Until I learned from a very old Baha’i that everyone has something to teach, and to know that they have knowledge you do not allows you to be less, to always learn, and to always honor the divinity within their spirit. That, I could live with. Later on, learning that there were a couple of limitations that I couldn’t live with and continue to actively promote myself as a Baha’i (for I have no desire to harm the Faith), I withdrew from the Baha’is.

Moving forward again, on the death of my husband, I moved to Troy. Since the first time I visited, I have described it as feeling as if you’re surrounded by God here. It has the typical small town feel to it, but also the very neighborly people that you don’t see in “normal” cities. This town of less than 1,000 people has 10 Christian churches (and 3 bars – something I’m told is an inverse ratio to most of Montana). I was slightly disappointed in the lack of religious diversity, but absolutely astounded at the way the churches here work together – because they are all brothers in Christ. Pastor sick at one church? Let’s make sure services and visitations are covered by the other churches. One church needs a projection system for worship – several take up a collection to help out. Apartment building in town burns down – Baptists will handle donations, they’ve got the most room; Methodists and Episcopals will cover short-term housing and food through vouchers; non-denominational will organize rounding up donations and picking things up where people can’t get to town, as well as making sure those who ended up in the hospital, families are taken care of and meals are made and passed around to those who need them. Troy is a truly unique town, and living here is a tremendous blessing.

I began attending Holy Trinity because they welcomed me, despite my very weird background, and I rapidly became part of the Episcopal community, serving where I could. I learned how to be a Eucharistic minister, and lay minister for leading morning prayer; I’m a really slow organist (thank goodness for programming that speeds it up to the right tempo), and I make the quarterly schedule of who has what job on Sundays. I was the only non-clergy to attend a seminar on Pastoral Crisis Intervention that was offered at the hospital in Libby; I felt my background as a mediator would likely serve me well there. Holy Trinity now has a web presence, and while the blog is only regularly updated during Advent and Lent, it does get sporadically updated throughout the rest of the year.

The Bishop’s news about online classes being available to become a priest immediately caught my attention. This could be something I could do to serve the community I love, and while being in front of people is not my favorite place to be, I am relatively good at it. Our little church has every marker for being a growing church, but something holds us back from growing. I think part of that is lack of a regular pastor – because people tend to want to know there’s a shepard guiding the way. The people who are in the church know that our Shepard has been guiding us all along, and His Words will always lead us, even if they’re said by lay ministers. But still, to see the church grow would allow us to better serve our own community, as well as the larger Episcopal community in Montana. There is much that can be done, and a sermon I heard today reminded me: we aren’t here to settle for “okay”. We are here to do the best that we can in service to God. Sitting back and waiting for someone else to take up the reins is not the right way to go.

I know that I can be a good pastor. I also know that no matter what happens, I’m always going to serve in some capacity or another.

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