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Vocation – A Reflection

January 29, 2020

There’s nothing quite like looking back over nearly 33 years of ministry to get me in a reflective mood. Yesterday and today I was working on my “Work Experience” and “Vocational Statement” which are a part of the application process for seminary. I don’t do this very often so it was a good opportunity for me to remember… to reflect… to give thanks for God’s calling upon my life.

Of course this journey of reflection took me back to the beginning. It took me back to the rock sticking out into the Chippewa River on the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire campus where I heard God’s call in October of 1980.

This is a portion of what I wrote in my “Vocational Statement” — To look back at the young fellow who was ordained in 1987, there has been so much growth through life experiences and lifelong learning. Over the past few years I have experienced significant growth both personally and professionally. Thanks in great part to the experiences in Columbia Seminary Lifelong Learning’s Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation program the depth of my own inner spirituality has grown tremendously. Influences such as Thomas Merton, St Ignatius, and Celtic Spirituality have invited me to slow down and be more introspective. Even amid the busyness of life and ministry, the call to be still and know helps to center me. Spiritual practices such as Contemplative Photography (Visio Divina), Daily Prayer, and intentional reading have helped to deepen my awareness of God’s presence and call to go out. In the words of the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Benediction, “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever he may send you.” From this introspection has come a confidence and boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and being the voice of a prophet in challenging and troubling times. My passion for Social Justice and Matthew 25 inclusion comes from a deep place of discernment and growth.

When I attended a Presbyterian Church (USA) CREDO Retreat for late-career pastors I had a similar opportunity to look back. Late-career pastors we participants decided, was a nice euphemism for those of us who have more career behind us than ahead of us! So it’s a bit funny that just over a year later, I was doing a similar sort of looking back.

One of the things that I realized from a very early stage in my ministry (especially in the Air Force Chaplain Corps) was that there were different ways of looking at ministry and the chaplaincy. I remember being a part of a group of potential candidates meeting with the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains in 1988 in Atlanta. We were being interviewed as a part of the selection process to become a Reserve Chaplain. Sitting at the table with three other candidates I was amazed by one of the ministers. He had his whole career plotted out. His plan was to progress until he was the head of staff of a large tall-steeple church. I was a country preacher in rural West Central Minnesota and my only plan was to eventually become an Active Duty Chaplain in the Air Force. It was a case of Career versus Vocation/Calling.

Years later I would encounter this in the upper ranks of the AF Chaplain Corps. Once again it was Careerism versus Calling/Vocation. I loved the way one of my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) colleagues who Franciscan Priest and AF Chaplain said it when asked about his plans/career–“I want to bloom wherever God plants me.” That was what I wanted to do as well. He put eloquently into words what I was feeling. I am forever grateful for that lesson as a young Chaplain.

In his book Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton said the following about vocation. I took the liberty of updating Merton’s language to make it inclusive as I believe he would agree to do today— {An individual} knows when {they have} found {their} vocation when {they stop} thinking about how to live and begins to live.

Some may wonder why at my age I am applying for graduate school when I have more ministry behind me than ahead of me. To be honest, there is a major reason why I am doing this. I feel called to go back to Seminary and pursue this degree because I have a strong sense of God’s calling to work for Peace and Social Justice in this country as a pastor.

Meeting other peacemakers, activists, and advocates for Social and Environmental Justice (like my sister and colleague in ministry abby mohaupt) at the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2018 has inspired me and they have been instruments in this new avenue of my vocational calling which began long ago on the banks of the Chippewa River.

Merton’s words come back again to me… Adapting them to my situation: I know when I have found my vocation when I stop thinking about how to live and begin to live.

I am being called to go back to school and learn as I respond to God’s call. Even in this ministry I have been a part of for almost 33 years, God continues to call me in new and amazing ways. For that gift, I am humbly grateful.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer my profound thanks and gratitude for the support and encouragement of my wife and partner in ministry, Denise! Thank you, sweetheart ❤️❤️

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