I have begun a vocational discernment process. Vocational discernment to Episcopalians is the seeking, sharing, investigative journey into the mind and heart with members of your church to see if your vocation or calling leads to a path towards ordination. The process has been going on for some time, but it's now in motion with others.
Is this a surprise? Allow me to describe how I got here.
Like many young gays, I left the Church (Roman Catholic) because of it felt that though we weren't to be ostracized, we still were held apart and were also asked to live a life of celibacy. We weren't sinners if we didn't do or touch anything. We were basically told to go into a corner and not say a word. As a teen and young adult, I knew this wasn't feeding me - how could it - so I parted ways. Not fully leaving the Church, but just my home Roman Catholicism. And yet, I still snuck back to try and find God and peace, though to no avail.
Like many in the 1980s and 1990s, my life partner and I would go to parties and dinners on Saturday nights, sleep in on Sundays, and somehow miss that there were other things happening on the weekend that might have been fulfilling. It's a work hard, play hard mentality that I suppose I've always had and there was no room for organized religion.
But it also left little room for grace. For 6-7 years during the 1990s, on Christmas and Easter, we would visit my ex's Episcopal church in Bakersfield or All Saints Pasadena. And although I had received invitations to come and attend, I finally heard a tone that I suppose I never recognized because it seemed implausible: welcome.
So with that welcome, I came back to the Church in January 2000, this time as an Episcopalian (part of the worldwide Anglican church), and I was content to practice in a via media life that resembled my Roman Catholic upbringing. I joined the choir and happily listened to messages of love and justice. It nourished me during times of duress. Well, most times. My separation from my partner, after 18 years, despite 2 years of couple counseling, was devastating and I even took time off from choir. I felt that the Holy Spirit had forgotten who I was. I needed space when what I also needed was grace.
Slowly, though, with the prayer of Taize and contemplative time walking the labyrinth, I eventually healed and renewed. The tiny cracks of hope kept widening and the Holy Spirit took root once more in me. And, through the love and inspiration of friends at church, I was invited to join the labyrinth ministry. I'm not sure what they saw, but it made me realize that I had gifts to share with others, and it didn't have to be a work skill.
Things shifted into higher gear in 2009. I volunteered at the church booth at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim. I found the discussions amazing. I came to appreciate the depth of commitment that can be shared not only within one's church, but also with the diocese and the Church itself. And I made friends. One priest not only befriended me, he made sure I met Bishop Barbara Harris because I mentioned that I found inspiration in her historic role as the first female bishop in Anglican and Catholic history. I met non-Los Angeles folks from Integrity, the LGBT interest group for Episcopalians, for the first time.
Soon, I felt comfortable, even drawn, to helping and serving others in whatever ways were needed. Whether asked to tote that barge or lift that bale, it now seems right to serve others in the name of God. By 2012, when I helped out at the next General Convention in Indianapolis, I distinctly felt an urge or voice if you will to not just serve but also to lead.
I don't know if it's because of my natural affinity to leadership situations. I've been placed in such situations or put myself into those roles as far as I can remember. But I began to feel that I can serve, must serve, the Church with these skills I've been granted. And rather than just offering my hands and feet, I began to feel called to also offer my voice.
Like many who fear change, I did a something rather common: I ignored this voice. Well, that's really too passive. I pushed it away.
I'm a tech geek.
I'm running a business.
I'm speaking in public about technology, not God. God and technology don't mix, do they?
So I rejected these feelings and went about my way. The funny thing is, though, people kept asking me, in person and online, if I was on a journey to ordination.
I would laugh and say heavens no. I was raised in a Roman Catholic tradition where you had 1 priest, 6 or 7 masses in 24 hours, for one or two thousand of people. If lay people were not involved, church wouldn't happen. The laity must serve if they want to be fed by the Church. My parents serve at their church 5 days a week, and my 76yo Mom and 80yo Dad would be baffled if asked to slow down.
But such questions from others persisted and my feelings persisted. One of the primary reasons I went on my pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago was to help understand these feelings and to find in my spiritual center, in my quiet place, an answer to what this all meant.
I didn't find the answer by looking inside. I didn't find the Holy Spirit under the brim of my hat. No, I kept to myself during the first many miles but eventually began to chat with others. And to my foolish amazement, I found the Holy Spirit calling to me from within the tired but passionate people I encountered.
The first person I talked to at length thought I was a minister. In fact, perhaps five people on the walk or at the dinner table eventually made comments as though they thought I was a minister. I was not quoting the Bible when this happened. I did what I feel has been my habit for the past few years: I listened, I asked, I shared stories, I tried to reach out.
And I ended that journey living out the lessons. I mentioned on my post-Camino presentation and in this blog that on the long flight from Madrid to Dallas, I just wanted to sleep, rest, and read. And yet this young man in a suit beside me wanted to talk for much of that flight. Now, if you've flown enough miles, you know how it can feel to be trapped in a conversation on a plane. I tried at first to politely shift to my reading but he kept at it. So I thought about the many lessons I learned on my journey, and I gave in and listened. And talked. And shared. And he grew content. Finally, as we were deplaning, an older woman in a business suit, came across from her seat in Business class and asked him if he's ready for the next meeting. And then she said, "I'm sorry you had to spend your birthday on a crummy plane, but maybe you got some good rest."
I didn't know if I sensed his sadness or loneliness directly, but realized in a concrete fashion that he somehow needed me, that I was expected to help, and that my journey wasn't ending on this flight. I was to continue this pilgrimage, connecting with others in a healing way, every day.
So eventually I talked with our priests at All Saints Pasadena. And I've started the ball rolling to see if I really am called to ordination to be a priest or deacon.
For those who attend All Saints Pasadena, you may recall that on Sunday January 25, our Rector (head pastor) Rev. Ed Bacon gave a sermon about vocation, or calling. He described some important aspects of vocation, which a discernment process helps discover and confirm. If you wish to listen to that sermon on YouTube, as well as his comments on the late Marcus Borg, watch the video below.
How does this play out with work and home life? I don't fear school or work when my vocation at home is the greatest blessing and strength for me. After all, my marriage to Stephen is in itself a vocation. I couldn't do this without his support and love. And I've come to realize that much as I have a competency at work, it's not my calling. I was originally a pre-med student specializing in gerontology. Perhaps because it was too soon and too close to my grandmother's decline, I couldn't emotionally stay in medicine, as the tears flowed to freely for me. Now, decades later, I understand and manage these feelings more effectively.
So that's how I got here.
As I begin this process with a committee at church, I will keep this prayer by Thomas Merton ("Thoughts in Solitude", 1956) in my heart:
My Lord God,I have no idea where I am going.I do not see the road ahead of me. Nor do I really know myself,And the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this,You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always though, I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, And You will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.
I pray that you will walk and sit with me, sing and pray with me, hold my heart and my hands with me on this journey. I have always felt called to the table, but for reasons that I can't explain, I now feel that I am asked to set that table, maybe even prepare the nourishment for that table, and invite others to join. May we break bread.together at this table in the next few months, in grace and love.
Lead me, guide me along the way,
For if you lead me I cannot stray.
Lord let me walk each day with Thee.
Lead me, oh Lord lead me.