On a snowy Saturday evening this past winter, my wife Sharon and I were leaving an almost empty Lowes store. I drove our car along the front of the store to avoid the speed bumps.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“What I am not supposed to,” came my reply. After a brief pause, I turned to her and said, “It makes me feel alive.”
She broke into laughter. “I’ve never heard you say it so plainly.”
Honestly, though, that’s who I am. Sharon likes to draw an imaginary line with one hand, saying, “Here’s the line,” and then, extending her arm as far as she can, adding, “and here you are. You always have to cross the line.”
I was the child that needed more discipline than my siblings; trouble seemed to find me. So imagine the impact, when I was about 10 years old, of my mom saying to me, “There was a Billy Sunday, a Billy Graham, and, I believe, one day there will be a Billy Martin.”
It was a moment at a young age when I realized there had been a path laid out for my life, not because my mom said I should, but because I knew she had spoken truth to me.
In high school, the line-crossing trends continued and I am certain there were not many teachers who wanted me in their classes. Yet a comment from Mr. Benner when he graded one of my speeches in speech class reaffirmed what my mom had told me. It was called a “Mini Chapel Speech” and he gave me a B grade with the comment, “Bill, I think you should consider becoming a pastor.” The note carried more weight because it was not based on the quality of the speech but rather on something else that he saw in me.
I have learned that God does not call us because we are perfect or because we are the best at something. God calls us out of His design and what He desires and what He is doing.
Several years ago, I was preaching at Spruce Lake Retreat. After the sermon, a friend came up to tell me about a comment a high school classmate made: “Of all the people I went to high school with, that’s the last guy I would have thought would become a pastor.”
That’s right, that’s me. Called by God, not because of who I am, but because of who He is.
When Penny Naugle announced she was retiring after ten years as an elementary principal at Penn View Christian School in Souderton (Pa.) to become a chaplain, the teachers weren’t surprised.
“Well, duh,” one responded, “That’s what you do to us.”
If there is a usual path to chaplaincy work, Naugle didn’t follow it. She has taught in Christian schools for over 30 years, including Johnstown Christian in Hollsopple, Pennsylvania; Lake Center Christian School in Hartville, Ohio; and Bluffton College—now a university—in Bluffton, Ohio. Hoping to work at the college level, she earned a master’s degree from Kent State and completed a dissertation while teaching at Bluffton. After Bluffton, hoping to be closer to grandchildren, she accepted the job at Penn View.
About three years ago, over a lunch with a pastor friend, chaplaincy training came into the conversation. Naugle doesn’t remember what prompted it, just the thought that popped into her head: “I’d love to take that!”
The training in clinical pastoral education, which required her to work in a hospital, she says, was “a pure delight.”
For Naugle, ministry has always been an important aspect of her work. She knew early on she was being called to work in Christian education, and it became clear in recent years that she was being called towards chaplaincy.
And at a time when many of her peers are looking towards retirement, Naugle knew she wasn’t ready to slow down, but that she needed a new focus to re-energize her, and a balance in her life that the long hours spent at her work had not permitted.
She resigned her job without a clear path, knowing God was inviting her to step out.
“It really felt that God was pulling me in that new direction,” Naugle says. “I have said this to my teachers over the years, I always think we should never feel trapped where we are; we should feel called where we are, and we need to keep our eyes and noses and ears up above the fray to see what else is there.”
Now, she’s a chaplain at Rockhill Mennonite Community in Sellersville (Pa.).
Naugle’s primary area of visitation is in nursing, which means that she visits all residents in the hospital, and follows up with them when they arrive home. Part of her work also involves what’s known as “cold calling,” or dropping in on residents without scheduling a visit in advance. Some chaplains have found this intimidating or un-energizing, but Naugle says it can open up incredible exchanges with people who have long and eloquent things to say about their lives.
For Naugle, she’s increasingly interested in spiritual direction, too, and the importance not only of prayer but also of listening for God.
Not to always be looking for something new, she says, “but to be aware of new possibilities so that we can say, ‘We’re here because it is where God has called us to be.’ Or, ‘Is there new space where I could be excited about it?’ If we are too narrow in our sights we might miss those opportunities.”
My calling into ministry did not come in a crystal-clear “Aha!” moment.
I have friends and former seminary classmates who knew they were going to be a minister since the age of 12, or who experienced a distinct “burning bush” calling from God. I, on the other hand, grew up wanting—at different points but with equal fervor—to be a veterinarian, author, and Broadway star.
I am none of those things today, and looking back, what stands out from those varied aspirations is an underlying but consistent curiosity about the Bible and faith and a deep connection to the life of the church.
I grew up at Perkasie Mennonite and was blessed with the examples of strong women pastors and with the affirmations of a warm church community. From a young age, I was encouraged to use my gifts in church and was also encouraged to bring my questions and uncertainties to the table. I have heard many stories of people who have been deeply wounded by church, and I am grateful that I was raised in such a safe, nurturing, and affirming community.
I received some encouragement from my church community and from high school teachers to consider ministry, but at the time it didn’t seem a very attractive option. While studying at Goshen College, however, that consistent curiosity that followed me throughout childhood led me into Bible and theology classes. I was so energized by studying Scripture and by learning about different theological perspectives. I recognized that what fed me the most was not my theater or music theory classes, but was engaging these questions of faith and of the church.
I spent a summer during college as an intern in a small Mennonite church in Florida, and recognized that not only am I energized by questions of faith, but that many of my gifts are well suited to ministry. I slowly began to open myself to the idea of pastoral ministry, although it still seemed like a far-off possibility.
After college, I spent about six months in the United Kingdom working with the Anabaptist Network, on behalf of Franconia Conference. It was there, while taking part in a small, urban house church, that I decided to take the next step and apply to seminary, and my husband and I ended up in Atlanta for three years while I studied at Candler School of Theology. It was a wonderful place to gain both head and on-the-ground knowledge, and also a good place to integrate my passions for church ministry and sustainability.
Even while in seminary, however, I didn’t really think I’d be a pastor any time soon. I felt too young, too inexperienced. And yet here I am, not yet 30 and serving as a pastor of a small Mennonite congregation while also farming alongside my husband. The call is not what I thought it would be, and I imagine it will continue to take surprising and unexpected shapes as I continue on the road.
Juanita is nine months pregnant. Her boyfriend, the baby’s father, is in hospice dying of cancer, and she’s about to be evicted from her apartment in downtown Allentown. She arrives at Ripple desperate, yet cheerful. Tomorrow is her birthday, and we celebrate by singing and giving her a whole cake, complete with candles.
Last week when I saw Brian, his hair and beard were white, in keeping with his aging frame. Today he looks years younger with his obviously dyed hair. He tells me he’s living in a new “time warp,” caused by the convergence of aliens and Americans.
Today, my husband, Tom, and I will officiate at a funeral for a homeless man who attended Ripple.
Yes, these are some of the realities of Ripple, where I sense God’s call to pastoring.
What brought us here? God. What keeps us here? God. How did I get here? It has been a long journey, involving wrestling, resisting, remembering, releasing, and surrendering.
My Lutheran upbringing prepared me for service in the church as a choir and youth group member and leader, and later as president of our college fellowship (where I met Tom), Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader. For one year after college, I participated in Lutheran Volunteer Corps, an organization similar to Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), in Washington, D.C., where I met households of MVSers, who began my introduction to Anabaptist theology.
Early married life with two young children brought us to worship at Whitehall Mennonite Church, where, eventually, Tom was chosen to pastor. We were both rebaptized, as were our children later.
Tom prayerfully began pastoring in his “free time,” alongside his job as a teacher. I wrestled with the time crunch that his two jobs created for our family, and even resented how church took Tom away from our family. Meanwhile, God was nudging me to get involved and begin recognizing my own gifts of pastoring, but I refused. What would our kids do if both of us were sucked into church work?
So many brothers and sisters at Whitehall began calling out pastoral gifts in me that I could no longer deny that God was calling me to a pastoral role. Yet, the resistance continued, as Tom enrolled in Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation. I decided to tag along to keep my eye on him—he was having some medical issues at the time—and ended up enrolling as well. Taking those classes was a fresh start for me, as I paid close attention to my own spiritual formation and internal conversations. I began to seriously consider what being called to pastor meant, and started meeting with a spiritual director. At the same time, we were moving out of Whitehall Mennonite’s realm to start an inner city ministry we first called “Ripple Effects.” Franconia Conference was instrumental in nudging us to take on this “missional experiment,” and Ripple continually reshapes itself, in true experimental fashion.
In the midst of all this, as our children approached college age, I returned to teaching school. Now how could I take on studying to be a pastor, when I, too, was working full time? Wrestling and resistance continued, until I remembered that others wrestled with God. I was in good company!
Releasing our country farmhouse and swapping for an apartment in inner city Allentown was a breaking point for me. I began Gateway classes after our first year in Allentown, and I have one more to complete. Because of Ripple’s ministry focus, I have also taken classes in restorative practices, and will earn a 24-credit certificate in ministry studies from EMS in the spring of 2015.
City life is so different from suburbia, but mission trips to Honduras also prepared us for life in Pennsylvania’s first majority-Latino city. We are part of a forming, informal group of Christians who live and work here in Allentown, and God keeps expanding our circles.
Recently, I wrote a response to some credentialing interview questions. One question, “What biblical principles guide your life and ministry?” caused me to reflect on love, relationships/community building and transformation. All three of these are rooted in Anabaptist theology and guide my daily living. Ripple’s byline is “moving closer to Jesus as our center,” and we do this by loving others Jesus’ way, building relationships, and praying and working for real, lasting transformation—beginning with me! In surrendering to God’s patient, persistent, risky call, my life has opened to new, life-giving possibilities. God is shaping me with a refreshing, transforming, loving perspective for my brothers and sisters in the inner city, as I pursue this adventure of being called to pastor at Ripple.
Juanita is still at risk of eviction. Brian still suffers with mental health issues. The family of Ronald, the homeless man whose funeral we officiated at, is still grieving. We are all moving closer to Jesus as our center, as we love, participate in community, and allow God’s transformation to happen.
Writing a call to ministry story is probably the last thing I ever expected to do if you would have asked me fifteen years ago. At that time in my life, I had doubts about the role of women in leadership and yet I was serving in different capacities in my home congregation, Doylestown Mennonite Church. As I look back on that time, I think the call to ministry had been brewing in my life for several years.
After working as an elementary school teacher for four years, my husband Steve and I began having children and my focus changed to homeschooling, which was a natural extension of my love for learning and teaching. I learned some leadership skills in the steering committee of the homeschool group of which we were active members. Being called to ministry in the church, however, was a different kind of leadership for which I was not ready.
Around this time, I read a book entitled Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. It ignited a spark in me that had been smoldering for some time. I felt called to begin a prayer time in our congregational setting.
Inviting people to pray during Sunday School, we focused on intentionally praying for our congregation, our community, and persons we knew by name who were not yet followers of Jesus. Out of that prayer time, we learned about prayer, about God and ourselves. Doylestown Mennonite Church graciously allowed this group to develop a prayer room where persons could come to pray together or on their own.
I gradually began inviting the congregation to more and more prayer initiatives as well as connecting with other persons involved in prayer ministry. Randy Heacock, pastor of Doylestown, encouraged and welcomed my involvement in calling the congregation to prayer. He, along, with the Ministry Leadership Team, affirmed my giftings by asking me to serve on staff as Prayer Minister. I sensed the Spirit was opening the door so I stepped in. Since then I have made several more steps into this calling. I served for several years as Prayer Ministry coordinator for Franconia Conference, working alongside staff and pastors in the conference as well as prayer leaders. Being mentored by Noel Santiago in the prayer ministry was also helpful for me.
It was during this time that Steve and I attended a conference at Spruce Lake Retreat. The speaker invited us to ask God what our mission was and I very clearly heard, “You are called to help people pray.” At that time, I did not connect that mission with being called to the ministry as a vocation.
Taking on the identity of a pastor grew gradually as I continued to serve as prayer minister in the congregation but also in other settings. Connecting with persons in my local community, serving on prayer teams in local businesses, and doing more pastoral care visitation in retirement communities have all been important ways for me to grow into the identity of pastor.
The more I think about the mission statement I sensed from the Holy Spirit several years ago, the more I realize that was a call to pastoral work. In Acts 6, we read the story of the apostles discerning their calling in the context of the local church. The apostles declared their priorities to be prayer and the ministry of the word. Randy preached from this text at my licensing on Jan. 5 and the more I ponder this, the more I realize that helping people to pray is a pastoral task. How important it is that pastors teach the word, but also pray and invite, lead, model, and encourage others to pray! When we as followers of Christ are able to grow in our relationship with God through prayer, we will be transformed and changed. Very simply, I see that as a priority for pastors. I am thankful to be called to serve Christ, the church, and the world in this way.
The hesitations I had about women in ministry were changed as I began to understand God’s invitation to all in Acts 2:17 where Peter reminds the crowd of the prophecy in Joel of the Holy Spirit being poured out on all people, sons and daughters, young and old. I see the incredible ways God uses both men and women in the kingdom work and I am grateful for God’s work in all of us. I anticipate growing in hope and joy as I continue to walk this journey of ministry alongside my brothers and sisters.
by Joy Sawatzky, chaplain, Souderton Mennonite Homes (reposted by permission)
I am scheduled to be ordained into pastoral ministry February 9 at Souderton Mennonite Homes. It’s a service that affirms God’s call on me to lifelong ministry to the Church, and gives me the credentials and oversight to do so through the Franconia Mennonite Conference.
I have been almost this close to being ordained before… twice. And each time I found a reason not to accept the invitation. Each time the reason was the same. It was because I was not convinced that I was ‘called’ to this life of service to the Church – for a lifetime.
In the movie “Runaway Bride”, Maggie has a tendency to run away when it comes to a marriage commitment. Maggie has just left another groom standing at the altar, and has jumped aboard a FedEx truck as an escape route.
Ellie: Where is she going?
Fisher: I don’t know, but she’ll be there by 10:30 tomorrow.
Like Maggie, I wasn’t always sure why I ran away, but just knew it wasn’t right – knew it in that place where I discern what God is saying to me. I knew it wasn’t the time. I was not running away from God or even God’s call (in the larger sense). I have been running toward God since I was a kid, after making a serious personal commitment to God’s loving and sustaining grace at our church camp, and have always lived a life pointed towards God.
Oh, I have thrown a tantrum or two at God since then, but never veered from that early innocent desire to be connected to and in service with my Creator – to live that life that God created me for. The verses that I live by are from Psalm 139:13 – 14:
For it is you, o god, who formed my inward parts; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderful are your works; I know that well.
Here at SMH I have found a place of ministry that fits with God’s call on my life. The time is right. I am not even tempted by all the FedEx trucks on the road! Thanks be to God for this marvelous gift!
Joy Sawatzky will be ordained at Souderton Mennonite Homes at 2pm on February 9, 2014. All are welcome to attend!
I had never fasted before. I had heard about it and even read about it, but, truthfully, I rather enjoy eating and so fasting was not a high priority. My curiosity was triggered, however, when I downloaded a new album from Flame and song eleven, appropriately titled “Daniel 10” opened with a pastor talking about the need for men and women to fast. As I listened to the album more and more, my curiosity grew more and more and my desire to fast grew more and more. But I did nothing.
Several months later our church had a guest speaker and wouldn’t you know it—one of the main messages in his sermon was how fasting had such an amazing impact on his life. This got my attention. Of course, my attention span is not what it should be and so, as the days passed, fasting once again returned to the back burner. About this time, my pastor asked if I would meet him for lunch. We set a date to meet but something came up and we had to cancel. Back burner again.
Around this time, I was given an iPad for work. So I did what all people do when they first get an iPad: go to the app store and get as many apps as I think I would use. One of these apps was a Bible app. This was great! It had all kinds of Bible translations, reading plans, and other sorts of fancy add-ons. As I was looking through this app, there it was: a 21-day fasting devotion. That was all I needed to see. The next day I started my fast and rescheduled lunch with my pastor.
That night I began the fasting devotion. It started by having me write down my reason for fasting. My work environment was deteriorating daily and so my main objective in fasting was to know where God wanted me. Each day I worked through the devotion. On the sixth day, I had lunch with my pastor.
He looked right at me and said, “Kris, I feel the Lord has placed it on my heart to encourage you to go to seminary. Have you ever thought about becoming a pastor?”
Wow! Six days into seeking God for direction and he answered!
I called my wife, Ginger, after lunch and told her what happened. We agreed we would look into this and prayerfully consider it. I worked late that night and when I got home, Ginger had a note on my pillow:
Kris, I woke up to pray for you this morning. I was going to ask God to use you where you’re at, but felt he was keeping me from that prayer. Instead, he led me to pray, “God, reveal to Kris today where you want to use him.”
I sat there with tear-filled eyes, overwhelmed. Ok, God. You have my attention. I will follow you down this path. Use me and my family as you will.
And so we did. I entered seminary. In July of 2012 I was called into the pastoral ministry at Finland. What began as curiosity changed the direction of my life—thank God for curiosity. In six days God created the world and in six days he completely recreated mine.