Tag Archives: call story

Surprised by the call

by Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

My work as an executive coach and process consultant requires me to travel around the country as I work with church-related organizations from various denominations. I enjoy my work and was looking forward to doing more of it after having recently finished a Ph.D in human and organizational systems.

phil bergeyThen came a call I did not anticipate. My wife Evon and I have been members at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church for 20 years. This congregation helped raise our three children and has been a place of support for all of us. Firman Gingerich, our lead pastor, announced his resignation and he and his wife Susan’s plans to re-locate to Iowa to be closer to family. Blooming Glen’s congregational leadership board (CLB) wanted me to explore if there was any way I could serve as part-time interim lead pastor in the midst of my other work.

I was surprised: surprised by the call, surprised by my initial openness, surprised by my family’s encouragement, and surprised that after several conversations with my spiritual director I found myself seriously exploring the possibility.

Despite this surprise, being called to serve in ministry roles is not new for me. In 1978, I felt called to voluntary service with Mennonite Board of Missions to Stratford, Ontario. In 1984, I was called to congregational leadership at Franconia Mennonite Church, the congregation into which I was born. In 1988, I felt called to pursue training for Christian service and moved my family several times in order for me to study at Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). In 1991, I was called to serve as a teaching elder at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. In 1993, I was called to serve as conference coordinator and executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference, a role I served in for 14 years with the identity of a seminary-trained businessperson rather than as a pastor.

So why was I surprised by this call to serve as part-time interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church? I am still puzzling over this, but I suspect it has something to do with growing up in the midst of our family business, Bergey’s Electric. I watched as my parents and siblings integrated ministry into their everyday work. I did not grow up with a dichotomy between church and work although the intersection of the two remains a lifetime fascination. (At AMBS, my master’s thesis was titled “What has Wall Street to do with Jerusalem.”) Work settings are just another way to interact—and minister—with people around us. Ministry happens when we are open to being used by God wherever we are called.

Over the past few months I have realized one more surprise. My dissertation focused on the question: How do Mennonite pastors describe their role in leading planned organizational change? At the time it seemed expedient to focus on a group I knew well and could easily work with to conduct my research. I figured the learnings would be useful in my work coaching pastors and other religious leaders. In retrospect, God was planning yet another surprise.

So I look forward to putting my theoretical learning to use in the ministry opportunity of pastoring a congregation through a time of leadership transition. I am honored to do this with a wonderful pastoral team and many committed volunteer leaders. This reality tempers my fears as I realize that ministry is a community calling when that community is open to God’s leading. To this end I find comforting the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples in John 16:12-14:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Responding to my call … for my daughter

Tami Goodby Tami Good, Souderton

I have always had a sense of what it means to be called into service.  My parents and grandparents modeled for me the importance of living out our faith through seeking God’s purpose for our lives.  As my grandfather always said, “You don’t come to church to warm the benches.”  Through his example and others I came to understand that walking with Christ is lived out daily as one shares her gifts with those around her.  We are all ministers of the gospel as we build relationships and reach out as Christ’s hands and feet.

About three years ago God gave me the word “prepare.”  At first I did not understand what that meant, but as my husband and I began to pray about it, I realized that part of my “preparing” would involve going back to school.  Through my studies at Biblical Seminary and the counseling and affirmation of others, I felt led to step out of the educational field and pursue a call in ministry.

As I grew into the idea, it was my daughter who compelled me to move forward in my calling.  Looking at her, I realized I wanted her to grow up knowing that God could ask her to do anything.   I firmly believe God calls both women and men into pastoral roles.  It is important to hear the many voices God has placed within our churches and conference settings.  Our young adults need to know that they can be used in whatever situation God calls them, regardless of their gender or ethnicity.  Including all our brothers and sisters in leadership roles allows all of us to fully use the gifts God has placed in each of our lives.

Teaching the whole story

Joyce Hunsbergerby Joyce Hunsberger, Salford

Some of you older folks may remember the days before cell phones. When I was in college and wanted to talk to my parents, I put my finger in the dial (no buttons to push…) at “O” for operator and actually heard a real live voice ask “May I help you?” I would say “person to person collect call to Geraldine Willcox.”  My mother had the option of accepting or refusing the call. I am glad to say that she always accepted her daughter’s call. Have I answered the right calls throughout my life?

As a young person, I always felt a special love for children. One summer, my friend Amy and I went around the neighborhood each morning, gathering up the children and bringing them to my back yard to have summer play school for 2 hours at the bargain price of 10 cents an hour. As a child, I never went to Vacation Bible School, and we didn’t teach Bible lessons in our play school, but now I realize that this experience was preparing me for a bigger calling later in my life. I didn’t attend a Christian college, but I still found ways to serve and to share my gifts. I was a member of the Scarlet Key Club that extended hospitality to new students on campus. I tutored very needy neighborhood children, referred to by most as nuisance “townies,” but, for me, they were precious. God was leading me to a later calling.

There was very little Christian teaching in my childhood and I attended public schools. Our family didn’t talk about God. We didn’t pray together or read the Bible. I have no memory of my being baptized as an infant, so, unlike believer’s baptism, that event did not play a very immediate role in my spiritual formation! I attended Sunday School now and then, but what I remember most is the disrespect some of the boys showed for their teacher and the humiliation I felt when laughed at for incorrectly answering the question “Who wore a coat of many colors?” with “Jacob” instead of “Joseph.” To this day, I have a fear of confusing the many Old Testament names beginning with the letter “J”!

My first job was teaching French and German in the Allentown School District, where, instead of leading devotions each morning as is done at Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, I was required to lead in the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. I did sneak in a limited Bible lesson, however… when a French student misbehaved, I had him write the Golden Rule ten times in French: “Tout ce que vous voulez que les autres fassent pour vous, faites-le de meme pour eux! Mathieu sept: douze.” All of my students could recite it from memory by the year’s end.

As I immersed myself in the demands of a first year teacher, I somehow found time to meet and fall in love with my husband. In saying “yes” to this call to marry a Mennonite man who embodied the values I knew I wanted to live by, I gradually began to understand and trust my life-long call to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Ray came from those “peculiar people” who did not conform to the world. I came from the elite college town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, where appearances mattered most. Now I was free to become all that God was calling me to be.

My call to children’s ministry has brought it all together. I knew as a young girl that I wanted to become a teacher and never wavered from that goal. As I became a part of the Mennonite Church, I realized that my gift of teaching also fit into this area of my life. Employment in a public school for most of my career allowed me to use my gift of teaching, but ministering to children in a Mennonite church feels like the culmination of where I have been heading all my life. Now I can teach the whole story – of God’s love for all of creation and of God’s desire for forgiveness, redemption, transformation, and healing for all.

There are many calls in life. We cannot answer them all. It’s OK to let the answering machine get a few. Maybe it was the wrong number anyhow. I am grateful that I picked up when the call to children’s ministry came! As I serve as Director of Children’s Ministry at Salford, I rejoice that God knew my number and that I picked up.

What I spent all my life becoming

Josh Meyerby Josh Meyer, Franconia

Born into a family with a rich spiritual heritage, I quite literally grew up in the Church.  I was dedicated as an infant at a Baptist church.  A few years later my mom was offered a job as the Director of Christian Education at a Lutheran church in the area.  We worshiped and participated fully in the life of that church for most of my adolescent years.  As I matured in my faith and grew in my relationship with Jesus, I began exploring other faith communities and ultimately attended a non-denominational and then a Brethren in Christ church during my high school years.  While in college I attended a more charismatic Vineyard church, and upon graduation joined the pastoral staff at a United Methodist Church.

I’m grateful for this diverse religious background, particularly because it has taught me one of life and ministry’s most important truths: it’s about Jesus.  Whether it’s a Baptist, Lutheran, non-denominational, Vineyard, United Methodist, or Anabaptist church, what ultimately matters is the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I’ve been influenced by a number of different theological traditions, but most importantly, I’ve been influenced by the person and work of Christ.  It’s this influence, this relationship, that drives and sustains me, that gives me life and hope and meaning and purpose, and that I’m pursuing with everything I have and all that I am.

From a young age, I have been drawn to the life of faith and in my early high school years began articulating a desire to “become a pastor one day.”  Part of me wondered whether these were the naive pipe-dreams of adolescence; however, as my faith grew and relationship with Christ deepened, the desire to pursue full-time ministry intensified.  During my college years, this calling—this vocational clarity—became undeniable.  Eugene Peterson writes about this in his memoir The Pastor, saying that pastor was “not just a job so that I could make a living, but a way of living that was congruent with what I had spent all my life becoming.”  Peterson’s words resonate deeply with my own experience: an inward calling to ministry that makes sense of and is in accordance with all the ways God’s been moving in my life to this point.

In addition to this inward calling, I have also felt an outward affirmation from the community of faith.  I’ve had people speak into my life—peers and mentors, pastors and parents, colleagues and congregants—who have affirmed some variation of the same message: “God’s gifted you for ministry.  You’re wired to be a pastor.”  I was initially uncomfortable with these conversations and unsure how to respond.  Over time, however, I have come to cherish these interactions as one of the ways God is continuing to confirm my call and invite me to pursue vocational ministry.

John Ruth has written that, “The way we do church is the evidence of what we believe.”  I’ve found that to be true.  Our beliefs have a profound influence on the way we do church, and my own Anabaptist convictions eventually led me to pursue ministry in the Mennonite church.  While I’d never actually been part of a Mennonite church, I align so squarely with Mennonite thought and theology that the process has felt very much like a coming home.

Looking back over the past few years, I have to marvel at the way God’s led me to serving in Franconia Conference: a chance meeting with a Mennonite pastor at an ecumenical training event; a late-night conversation with a Conference staff member at a restaurant in rural Vietnam; a meeting with a seminary professor who encouraged me to put my Anabaptist beliefs into practice by filling out the MLI (the first step toward becoming a pastor in Mennonite Church USA); an invitation to join a local Mennonite pastors group despite the fact that I was, at the time, a Methodist pastor.  On the surface, all these random “Mennonite connections” seemed coincidental, comical, and—to be honest—sometimes a bit creepy.  However, I can now see how each of these experiences were part of God’s unique calling, a way of bringing my wife Kim and me to the Mennonite church in a way we never could have imagined.

I look forward to listening to, learning from, and leading in the Mennonite church.  More than anything, I can’t wait to see how God continues to draw us into inspiring stories, using them to disrupt our complacency and remove our fear so that we might strive after Jesus together.

The other side of loss

KrisAnne Swartleyby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown

Pastors’ children tend to have two reputations: rebellion or following in the footsteps of their parents (never mind all the kids in between). From the time I was young, I fell into the latter category, strongly drawn to my father’s calling and work. My connection to God was real and tangible to me, very much alive in my interior world. I followed that inner leading readily, preaching my first sermon as a teenager and studying ministry in college.

As a fresh college graduate, with all the energy and optimism that implies, I began my first professional ministry position. And I made mistakes. I began to wonder if I had heard God’s call correctly. Were my weaknesses too obvious? Was I too passionate? Too opinionated? Too feminine or not feminine enough?

I sat with these questions for quite a while without resolving them completely, and then one day my phone rang. It was my father. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. They came to stay with us during her treatment, and as I struggled to companion her and my father in their journey—saw the way the cancer ate away at her body and mind—I felt my soul sinking into a deep, dark, silent place I had never known before.

And when she died, it felt like part of me died as well.

Not only did I question if I was called to ministry in the first place, but I questioned the character of the God who called me. Is God really good? Is God active in our lives? Does God work miracles to heal the sick? I tried to hold all of these questions and doubts honestly. I tried to wait patiently for answers. I went to seminary and got my MDiv in the hope that some book or professor or passage of scripture would clear the fog for me. It did not.

Over time, however, something got under my skin. Maybe it was the touch and smell of my baby’s skin, the faithful companionship of my husband, or the food that friends brought as we grieved. Maybe it was the miracle that there was still laughter at all after so many tears. Maybe it was the simple act of loved ones praying for me when I could not pray at all. Maybe it was music or simply the passage of time… or a combination of all these things. But slowly and steadily faith came back to me, like a dear friend who had been holding my hand all the time and I had not noticed.

God’s call to serve as a pastor also came back to me. I found congregations and leaders who received my passion and vulnerability, who readily acknowleged my humanity and still dared to call me “minister.” To my surprise, I discovered that on the other side of loss is gift and great joy. And being a pastor does not mean having all the answers. For me, it means bringing all of myself–doubts, fears, anger, passion, joy—to the moment and choosing to trust God’s Presence among us.

KrisAnne Swartley is on the pastoral staff at Doylestown Mennonite Church for the Missional Journey. She lives in Hilltown Township with her husband Jon and two children, Heidi and Benjamin.

On World Domination and Global Espionage

Derek Cooperby Derek Cooper, Deep Run East

Growing up in the piney woods and ranch-covered hills of East Texas, I deliberated between two potential careers: world domination, that is to say, being a politicking lawyer, and global espionage, perhaps serving as a CIA officer who worked covertly in some ivy-covered medieval castle in Ghent or Prague.

Now snugly in my thirties, it turns out that I have yet to find a way to control the world. Nor have I yet traveled to Ghent or Prague. Instead, my days are comprised of changing dirty diapers on the youngest of my three children, who laughs mockingly every time I mention that toilets are all the rage; leading and participating in a continual cycle of meetings; having lunch at very German-sounding restaurants with local pastors; teaching and counseling seminary students; and writing Christian books whenever I can snatch the time. When I get home after a busy day of work, my wife and I talk about our day and then I play dolls with my two girls. Almost every night, instead of chasing down international gun-smugglers in a black-and-white tuxedo, I run after my son until I fall down from premature middle-age or until I trip over a Barbie Doll who is taking a joyride on a miniature camouflaged jeep.

My life – and the silly daydreams I had as a child – changed for the better when I was a young college student. Armed with the dual majors of Political Science and Spanish, I stood barrel-chested before the world, ready to take over the reins of political control and international malevolence once I graduated.

In the meantime, I met the love of my life during my second year of college. At the exact moment I saw her, something inside of me came alive and the first moment I got, I boldly declared to this Bucks County native: “I’m going to marry you.”

Repulsed at my forwardness, I spent the next three years convincing this beautiful young lady, named Barb, that God sent her down to Texas so that she could marry me. Little did I know that God had, indeed, led her to Texas – to serve as a missionary with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). But about this more important matter of fetching a husband, she was not amused. Although I still stand by my statement – who knew that Texans were bold and swaggering? – God was pleased to use this young woman to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Within a matter of months, I dropped that world domination and global espionage business, and began to think like a Christian, that is, outwardly and in a Jesus-centered way. I gave my life to Christ, and it has never been the same.

Before I knew it, I was a college graduate and a full-time seminary student. I was now conjugating Greek verbs, preaching at something called a church, reading the Bible (and learning this was far more interesting than political theory), praying, and thinking of a career in missions.

Eventually I learned that God was preparing me for a career in theological education. In the meantime, not only did I convince Barb to marry me, but I even convinced her that God was calling me to get a PhD – which can be translated in the marriage-ese language as: “I will study for the next several years and make no money. Will you support us as I do so?”

While I was earning the last of my three graduate degrees and generating a very meager income-earning power, Barb gave birth to our three wonderful children – currently aged three, four, and five – and also managed to work full-time as an educator.

Did I mention how great my wife is?

Over the years, God has been extraordinarily kind to us. After years of prayer, Barb is now able to stay at home full-time with our kids, just as she has always wanted. And God has provided many wonderful ministry opportunities for me. Most recently, I served on the pastoral teams of two different churches, and I am now a very busy seminary professor and administrator – filling my professional free time with speaking at different churches and writing books.

But the most recent change Barb and I have experienced is joining the Mennonite community. Through the course of key relationships with Mennonite leaders, pastors, and churches, Barb and I have sensed God’s clear leading for us to become Maronites, I mean, Mennonites (I’m still trying to get that down). What can a Southern transplant from gun-slinging and flag-saluting Texas say about being part of the oldest Mennonite community in North America?

In all honesty, I can say that Barb and I clearly sense that God is active in the Mennonite community. God’s Spirit is really alive and poised to do something amazing. We are excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to see how God will bring everything together.

As I think back upon my former dreams, do I have any regrets? Not a one: Christ fashioned my life into something much more than a career in world domination or espionage ever could have given me. Following Jesus has been the most rewarding journey of my life. Of course, if Jesus happened to take a trip and set up shop in Prague or Ghent, I would not complain.

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, where he also serves as associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He can be reached at dcooper@biblical.edu.

A Combined Call

Kirby Kingby Kirby King, Minister of Adult Formation at Souderton Mennonite Church

To speak about call in my life for church work requires that I speak about my call to teach at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School (Dock) as well as my call to become a licensed leader of adult formation at Souderton Mennonite Church. Both calls are so intertwined that I cannot separate them.

As a student at Lancaster Mennonite High School in the early ’80s I began to see myself as a person who could possibly have gifts in presentation and publicly leading or teaching a group. This is largely due to several teachers who gave me an opportunity to explore the “stage” of the classroom with presentations. My youth group at Maple Grove Mennonite Church complimented this by opening up leadership roles for me; specifically leading/teaching Bible study. A call was beginning to form inside me from those around me.

Fast-forward a few years, Laura Stoltzfus challenged me to go to college and become a teacher. I shared this with a small group and found support and encouragement. Again, the words from brothers and sisters of the faith sparked an internal call.

At present I have been teaching at Christopher Dock for 19 years. Even though I have completed my Master of Arts in Education, I have enrolled in Eastern Mennonite Seminary (EMS) to work toward a second Master’s degree. I feel an internal call to continue my education but this call is also tested and confirmed by my colleagues at Dock, my professors at EMS, and my peers at church.

Over the past two years, my work in my congregation (Souderton Mennonite Church) has blended smoothly with my professional teaching career. I have been assisting and leading in the adult Sunday School classes as a support person, class room teacher, and mass session leader. I also have added what I can to the preaching rotation; some during the summer months and some during a pastor’s sabbatical leave.

Souderton Mennonite Church recently asked me to accept a call to become our first leader of adult formation. This fits well with my internal call to teach and my full time occupation at Dock. I remain open to God’s leading in this new role. Based on my experience with God’s call, some future calls will stir up within me and some future calls will be clarified or brought to light from those around me. My prayer is that I hear and listen to God’s call as this new role develops.

The deep affirmation of God

John Stoltzfus, Campus Youth Minister, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School

John M StoltzfusMy call to ministry did not happen in one place or time but pursued me from my childhood in Morgantown to the far reaches of the globe. I grew up in a home where the life of the church and a strong commitment to faith were woven into the fabric of family life. In my parents’ lives, I witnessed a love for God and all of God’s people.

I recall numerous people in my home congregation tapping me on the shoulder with the encouragement to consider pastoral ministry. Despite this outer call, the inner call was yet to be confirmed for some time. I told a friend before I entered Eastern Mennonite College that while I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I did know that I didn’t want to be a pastor!

Following college, my interest in service and experiencing other cultures spurred me to teach in China. During those two years, God’s grace and prompting continued to shape and lead me in the direction of pastoral ministry. Upon returning, I entered Eastern Mennonite Seminary. These years marked a key turning point as I received the deep affirmation of God for who I was and was becoming.

The call to my first pastorate at Lombard Mennonite came in the midst of a coast-to-coast bike ride in the summer of 2001 while I was entertaining serious doubts about my decision to pursue church ministry. That journey taught me a greater trust in the provision of God. I am deeply grateful to the Lombard congregation for the ways in which they nurtured and encouraged me to grow as a ministering person.

In my ministry with youth, I hope to pass on this gift, helping our youth listen for the often still and small voice of God in their lives, calling us all to be ministers of God’s reconciling love in our world.

Family, nature, and service

Sheryl (Hurst) Duerksen, Principal, Quakertown Christian School

QCS photo
Sheryl Duerksen with student Grant Souder.

I grew up on my family farm in Bowmansville, Pa. Through my parents and extended family, I learned the language of love. For an outgoing child who loved being around people, our farm provided a wonderful opportunity to be showered with love and attention.

Highlights of my childhood were being outdoors around the farm, in the creek, or riding bike. After college graduation, I joined my brother and three other young adults to ride bike across the US. We flew to Los Angeles, Ca. where we each dipped our back bicycle wheel in the Pacific Ocean. After riding 54 days and covering 3,600 miles, we arrived in Asbury Park, N.J. where we each put our front wheel in the Atlantic Ocean.

Church and service were also important and college summers provided opportunities to participate in voluntary service. I met my husband, Rick, when he moved to Philadelphia to participate in two years of voluntary service at Crossroads Community Center.

In 1989 I was introduced to Christian education when the Duerksen family moved to Camp Men-O-Lan. The core values of Quakertown Christian School (QCS) resonated with me and I was thrilled to be hired as a second grade teacher. Twenty-two years later I continue to enjoy my involvement in the ministry of QCS. Teaching and education are truly my passion! Two years ago, I moved into an administrative role and now serve as principal.

Education in a Christian school is exciting because a biblical dimension is added to daily routines; we are able to integrate the teachings of Jesus in every subject. When home, church, and school partner together, children will be blessed in their faith development. It is exciting to be part of a ministry that develops radical followers of Christ.

God’s “acolyte” in youth ministry

by Scott Franciscus, Covenant Community

From an early age, church has played an important part in my life. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, which followed a consistent liturgy, and very rarely missing the early morning worship each Sunday, I sought to become as involved with the church service as possible. As soon as I was able after being confirmed, I became an acolyte (which means “helper” or “attendant” in Greek), also known as “altar-boy”. The role of the acolyte is to assist in the worship service by carrying a processional cross, lighting candles, helping to set up and clean up the altar for communion, holding the Gospel Book that the priest read from, swinging incense, and holding the collection plates after the offering was taken.

Throughout my years in middle school and high school, I continued to take on more responsibilities as an acolyte including reading the Old or New Testament liturgy or administering the shared communion cup during the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Even though my family was proud of my involvement in the church and occasionally someone from the church would comment on my “future” in the church, I did not ever see myself “called” to formal ministry. While I stayed connected to the church during my high school and college years, it was done more out of obligation than desire.

When I started attending Messiah College—in part because it was close to home— ministry was not in my plans. I entered Messiah College as a declared accounting major. Since I enjoyed accounting and did well in my accounting classes in high school, it seemed like the perfect fit for me, especially since it seemed like the perfect profession so I could get the most out of life and accomplish my dreams. Little did I know at the time that it wasn’t about my dreams and what I wanted out of life.

While at Messiah, I became involved with a group called “I’m Worth Waiting For” which offered abstinence-presentations to health classes and church youth groups. During this time, God began instilling a passion in my heart to work with young people. At the time, the church I grew up in didn’t have a ministry to youth outside of Sunday School where I could go to talk with someone about faith or struggles, or even just to hang out.

The more opportunities I had connecting with youth, the more God called me to change who I was living my life for. Although I enjoyed working with youth and taking the Bible classes at Messiah, the last place I saw myself was in ministry. I made the decision that, regardless of how I felt God leading me, regardless of his gentle persistence, going into ministry was not an option.

It took almost failing out of college for me to realize that it wasn’t about what I wanted out of life. I can still see myself walking around the bases of a baseball field as the snow was gently falling, wrestling with God on why I was not the right person. I tried to convince him there were better people to be in ministry and explain why he didn’t need to call me.

God showed me that the call wasn’t about my goodness but his, that my decisions weren’t the best but his were, that it wasn’t about my goals but his call.  He showed me that no matter how far I tried to run, he would be there waiting for me.

It was then that I decided to follow his path and listen to Christ’s voice. It was then that I realized the abundant life Jesus Christ offers. What a joy it has been being God’s “acolyte” in youth ministry ever since!