Stepping on rakes: Reflecting on a journey of adventure

Wayne Speigle, Ballywayne-copy.jpg

When I was a kid I had an imaginary friend, which embarrassed me later because it seemed weird. Maybe it was, but it got me used to being slightly off, like when I have strange dreams that seem to mean something if I can only figure it out. That was the interior life of a farm boy from western PA. Looking back, it seemed like I was always leaning toward something, though I seldom knew exactly what. Somewhere along the way I got the impression that an imagination is something of a call to ministry, if not a qualification.One evening, waiting for a ride to Bible school, I stepped on a garden rake intentionally to see if what happened in cartoons would also happen in real life. That was not the last time I tried something just to see what would happen. Sometimes the result was painful but usually there was an “aha!” and I always learned something. I kept stepping on rakes through college at Eastern Mennonite and voluntary service (MVS). Fortunately there was often more joy and insight than facial injury. Joanne Brenneman and I met in MVS, married the following summer and moved to Richmond, Va., two weeks later. That too was an adventure – we knew almost no one and thought we might be there for two or three years.What fun to marry someone with a similar sense of adventure, who can walk into a rundown house and imagine what we could do. After a semester pilgrimage to Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary I finished my master’s studies at Union Seminary in Richmond. Joanne spied the rake of medical school, then stepped out.We did not need imaginary friends because we made hundreds in Richmond. I became pastor of First Mennonite, a church that accepts being Anabaptist and adventurous as the same thing. I have had the privilege of assuming an ancient Book with stories of God’s people can somehow enlighten our path, and finding that with imagination, it does.We had not envisioned that our two daughters would grow up with southern accents. After 18 years in Richmond, we looked north and spied a land across the Potomac. Joanne accepted a position as radiologist at Doylestown Hospital, where her father had practiced, and we found a place by the Indian Creek near Harleysville, Pa. This too was adventure. It is fair to say that something in our experience and outlook had us feeling both akin to and at odds with a traditional Mennonite setting. We found many people who like to laugh and dream, even though we might look around sometimes to see who is watching.I accepted a call to pastor West Swamp in Quakertown, Pa. The leaders of the congregation and I knew that I might stand alongside the mold of traditional pastor but would not fit into it. There was enough imagination that we could put together the beginnings of a new congregational structure and vision where leadership and responsibility are shared. I count it success that after six years most people would laugh at my humor. They gave me a rock from the oldest foundation of the church as a gift and the thought of that ebenezer still moves me. The foundation of a new core leadership had been laid, both fresh and deeply trusted.Soon after I went to West Swamp, the Eastern District Conference asked me to be moderator. When I was introduced as having also been moderator of Virginia Conference, one colleague murmured that I must be a slow learner. Sometimes it is more fun that way. A third term on the Penn View School board also keeps me among people who like to look beyond what is, who like to learn as much as the students do.A few months between calls brought rest and an adjustment in our family’s identity. Visiting and preaching in other congregations, travel and time to catch up on projects has been a privilege, but there was always the question of “what next?” The Bally congregation had a similar experience. They asked me late this summer to be Interim Preaching Pastor, to provide some continuity while they move through their transition. I have agreed to journey with them while we both discern the next steps. So here in yet another place we get to imagine how the ancient stories are lived today and how God can speak to us in our dreams.