Follow the Calling
Until I became a UU and started hanging around ministers, RE teachers, board members, and other unsavory characters, I’d never thought much about what it meant to have a “calling,” or to be “called” to do something. Gradually I became aware of people using the term “calling” to describe the aspiration, nay the compulsion to become a minister. I have also heard this compulsion described as a “longing” or a “grinding.” I never really understood it until it first crept, and then burst, into my life.
I first considered the possibility of a second career in ministry when I noticed that many of the things my good friend and minister Forrest did in his work – teaching, leading, and taking care of people - were exactly what I’d enjoyed most in my military career. I asked Forrest about life as a minister, and I’ll never forget what I heard him say: “Ministry is a great career, but it’s really hard. If you can do something else, do it.”
By the time a year had passed, I had become much more involved as a UU, and the idea of ministry came to me more and more frequently. It was helped along by people in my congregation who would ask if I had considered becoming a minister. I think they could see something in me that I wasn’t quite ready to articulate.
I took a big step on this new path when I first expressed my calling out loud. At UU Leadership School, when people in my class asked me what I would do after my military career, I had been telling them my “stock answer,” that I planned to retire in Monterey and teach. My calling revealed itself when at breakfast one day Claire, the Dean of the school, asked me quite innocently “so, what are you going to do after the military?”
I was a bit taken aback when “I want to be a minister” came out of my mouth! As I lived with the idea, however, it felt right, if not totally comfortable. It felt strange telling my family and friends of my new plans. If someone had told me even two years before that I would be actively involved in RELIGION and regularly attend a CHURCH, much less want to become a MINISTER, I would have laughed out loud!
This was the summer we moved to Virginia, so our lives were in transition anyway as we drove across the country to live in a very different place. Once we were settled in our new home and adjusting to our new lives, reality set in. The slight discomfort I had felt about my new plans turned to doubt and fear (of the unknown, of course). How would I pay for seminary? What would be the impact on our children? Could we live on a minister’s salary? I let myself focus on my fearful expectations of the outcome of taking this path.
I let this doubt persuade me to take an easier, more practical road to a second career, and I started doctoral work at George Mason University two nights a week. I figured I’d finish my degree in time to retire, move to Monterey, and teach. Once the kids were grown, sometime in the distant future, then I would revisit this desire, this call, to be a minister. But of course the call wouldn’t wait for me, and soon a little voice was whispering, “you don’t want to be a professor; you really want to be a minister.”
The following summer I spent two weeks in California, first at a conference in Monterey, then attending the General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) in Long Beach. Throughout this trip, I met many new friends and ran into lots of old ones. The more people I told of my plans to get my doctorate, teach, and then pursue ministry later in life, the more it sounded like someone else’s story. I began to realize I really did want to be a minister as soon as possible.
During the course of GA, I met several people who were working in various parts of central or northern California and commuting to Starr King School for the Ministry, the UU seminary in Berkeley I plan to attend. By the time I left California, I had a new plan: I would still get my doctorate and move to Monterey, but I would teach part time while commuting to Starr King.
On the flight back to Virginia, however, I had an epiphany. I realized that although my new plan was economically practical, it would prolong the road to ministry and be very challenging to my family life. I didn’t relish the thought of commuting over two hours each way to class, when I was already rapidly tiring of my 45 minute commute to GMU.
What hit me physically, mentally, and emotionally on that airplane was the realization that what I truly wanted to do, what I must do, was to follow this call with one hundred percent of my being: to move to Berkeley, go to Starr King full time, and live my life as a seminarian, a husband, and a father. With the love and support of my family, it will work.
By letting go of fear, expectation, and outcome, I was able to finally hear what Forrest had really told me about ministry that day two years before: “if you can do something else, do it.” I can’t.