I'm in New Orleans for the Ministry Fellowships Conference with The Fund for Theological Education. I'm serving as a round table leader, guiding a group of first year seminarians at they engage this conference--and walking with them through the vocational discernment this conference is meant to stir up. Its an honor and a blessing to be part of this organization, and to get the chance to participate in this way.
I attended this same conference in 2001, when I received a fellowship as a new seminarian. Its great to be a part of this again, and to give back to an organization and an event that was powerful for me, and an important part of shaping my own vocational discernment.
The first day, one of the questions posed to the leadership group was "Why did you say 'yes' to be a part of this event?" The first part of my answer was that I've never participated in an FTE event that I didn't receive more than I gave. But as I pondered the deeper answer to that question, a big part of it has do do with gratitude for the way that FTE has helped me in my own vocational discernment--especially recently.
In addition to the FTE fellowship I received in 2001, I've gotten several opportunities to interface with FTE and the various projects that they have been working on. Most recently that has been working with their "Calling Congregations", "Notice, Name, and Nurture" and "VoCARE" events--events that are meant to foster congregations as centers of vocational and theological reflection. I've really enjoyed getting trained in their approach (even though my opportunities to enact it in the congregational setting fell apart). The training itself was transformative for me, because as we practiced how we might lead conversions about call and purpose in our congregations, we were all invited (and challenged) to dig a little deeper into our own stories of call--how and where and when we felt (and continue to feel) God's call for our lives. Going through that process really helped me clarify some things I had been wrestling with in my congregational call--and as that was drawing to an end, about what I felt called to next.
It was through the FTE vocation care process that I gained clarity about what God was calling me to do. At one of the events I crafted this call statement: "My call is to encourage and challenge the Church to live more fully into God's dream by innovating in and among communities who are engaging the resources of the Christian faith to include and empower young adults." As my congregational call was ending, and I was looking for the next ministry that God was calling me to, this statement and the accompanying reflection that happened through those FTE conferences guided me in making the hard decisions that were before me--and gave me the courage to take a leap of faith into the current work that I am doing as Campus Pastor and Director of Spiritual and Vocational Formation at Trinity Lutheran College.
The past three months that I have been in this call have been one verification after another that I am doing what God is calling me to do at this moment. The joy of working with the students at Trinity, the opportunity to foster vocational and spiritual formation among the entire college community, and the freedom to innovate with creative expressions of worship is like a dream come true for me. Its a kind of feeling that you can only experience when (to paraphrase Beuchner's words on vocation) "your deepest joy meets the world's deepest need." It's a joy I intend to pass along to the students (and others) that I will work with.
As I reflect on my call statement, it is no wonder to me that I would commit a week to be here in New Orleans with these future pastors--to be part of their journey of self discovery and discernment. FTE is a community that engages the resources of the Christian faith to include and empower young adults--in fact, I believe the work of FTE will emerge as some of the most significant work being done in the Church. I am overjoyed and most certainly blessed to be here with these folks--sharing cafe au lait, beignets, and deep conversation about what God is calling all of us to be about together.
(This post is the first in a series. The next installment is here.)