For some years now, I have been concerned about changes in what is understood as call.
I guess part of my concern is rooted in the fact that I spend so much time dealing with the subject of call. As the deployment officer (aka transition minister) for the Diocese of Mississippi, I encounter some aspect of this topic at many different points: the Commission on Ministry; placement of newly-graduated seminarians; clergy thinking about moves; search committees looking for their next rector, vicar or priest-in-charge. So the subject of call and its interpretation are frequently on my radar screen.
I recognize the potential to sound like father time on this subject. As I entered ordained ministry, there was an understanding that we would go where we were needed. God bless them, my wife and family were always willing to do what was required. That included some challenging times as I went through the three-year seminary training.
When Bishop Gray, Jr., called me in the spring of my senior year, we were thankful to be sent to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where I would serve as curate at Trinity Church, Pass Christian, and vicar at St. Patrick’s, Long Beach. I was posted at Trinity for three years (under the loving guidance of the Reverend Bronson Bryant, rector) and served St. Patrick’s for five years. Those were years of great joy, sense of purpose and challenge. The point was this: The Bishop sent me where I was needed, and we went. There was a call.
There was a short interlude at St. George’s Church, Nashville – one of great challenge both to me and my family. Yet together we perceived that call and responded to it. Together we discerned there were additional steps we needed to take.
I know that somewhere in my deep, red-and-blue background, I had uttered (with curled lip), “I will never move to Starkville.” Such was my snide attitude about the “other” university town in Mississippi. But, by God’s grace, we were called there, and life could not have been fuller.
It was a source of amusement among my friends and parishioners that this Ole Miss Rebel had been called to the community in which my alma mater’s arch rival was located. An ultimate irony came when, during my first year in Starkville, Nora and I were the invited to sit in the President’s Box at the Egg Bowl. I saw the humor in the whole thing, and began to quote St. Paul to those who raised the issue: “I have become all things to all people that some might be saved.” Including myself.
But the point was clear to me: The Call may be to some place we would never expect. We may be called to go to places that are not on our “bucket list.” And, finally, God’s work is to be done in all places.