I Was Thinking…
The great teacher of preachers and once named one of the best preachers in America, Fred Craddock, told a story about his call. I think on this Monday, it bears repeating.
“Ministers as a lot are strange. I learned it quite early, at summer camp at Bethany Hills. I went every year. I liked summer camp—a beautiful place, good friends, and a lot of playing and eating and having fun. There was a minister there—the first minister I really was ever around—his name was Frank Drowota. He was from England and still had a drag in his voice after all those years. He was the Pastor of Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville, and he was one of the teachers, counselors, whatever they were called, at summer camp.
I remember one evening after we left the dining hall, he walked along with me and said, 'Can I talk with you?' 'What’d I do wrong?' He said, 'Have you ever considered becoming a minister?' I said, 'No sir, never, never have.' I was seventeen, about to begin my senior year in high school, and he ruined everything for me. What a thing to lay on a kid. All I wanted to do was go where the girls were, save some money to get a car, go to school some more, someday get married, have a house, a garden, and two weeks of vacation in the summer. What else is there? And then he lays that on me. I thought about it when I got up in the morning; I thought about it when I went to bed at night. I am still thinking about it. He was a minister, and he did that.” (Craddock Stories, P. 136-137)
God speaking to us is an interesting concept. God speaks through a still small voice and God speaks through an experience. God speaks through scripture…always. God speaks through others. But God does speak all the time. The question for me is “Am I listening?” Or “Would I know the sound of God’s voice when God spoke?”
I will confess that sometimes I don’t like what I hear when I perceive God is speaking. I always (and maybe you do too) want God to agree with me on all matters of life, love, and call. I will also confess it has never been a good thing for me when I have ignored God’s voice. I look back and wish I had not only listened but done (or not done) what the Holy Spirit was nudging in me and for me. As an itinerate United Methodist Pastor I haven’t always liked where God was sending me but as I always went, I found God there waiting for me.
This past week I watched God speak. It wasn’t what I, personally, wanted to hear, but I have made enough journeys around the sun to know, in the unwanted speak, there will be blessings.
At the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, some 350 delegates listened, prayed, discerned, and then voted their Holy Spirit nudges to elect three new United Methodist Bishops. It is quite a process. Nominees for Bishops were supported by their Annual Conferences and their Annual Conference Delegations. Nominees were interviewed. There were initially nine nominees offering themselves for this Holy office of Bishop in the UM Church. Only three Bishops were to be elected. Tom Berlin from Virginia, Connie Shelton from Mississippi, and Robin Dease from South Carolina were elected and consecrated as Bishops.
Robin Dease was a write-in candidate who rose to the top in a miraculous fashion that caused all to witness a movement of God’s Spirit in a spine-tingling fashion. God’s Spirit was upon the process.
Then came the assignments of all the active Bishops in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. I had hoped Bishop Sue would be reassigned to the North Georgia Episcopal area. Yet, her name was read as assigned to the Richmond Episcopal area and the Virginia Annual Conference. I was grief-stricken! Who, then, was God’s call and leading to come to North Georgia? Soon it was announced – Robin Dease was coming to North Georgia. Still in shock at Bishop Sue’s new assignment yet somehow, I felt God was in this and then, therefore, Holy anticipation began to fill my soul. Is it possible to feel great loss while at the same time feeling holy anticipation? Yes, it is.
I will greatly miss Bishop Sue, Allen, and Samantha. They have been a part of our lives for six years. Her prophetic leadership has stirred us toward God’s earthly kingdom as it is in heaven. I will grieve. But I know God is in this…I’ve known it all my ministry. God will greet Bishop Sue in Virginia and God will greet Bishop Dease in North Georgia. On occasion, it seems trite to say but I think it is meaningful to say here, “God is good. All the time. All the time. God is good.”
The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop