My faith journey has been a wandering one – perhaps like yours. My first exposure to church and religion came when I was 10 in my Grandma’s Holiness Church. Her church seemed full of “hellfire-and-brimstone” preaching; like a Sci-Fi movie with talk of rapture, Jesus coming on a thunderous cloud with lightning bolts in his hand, and heavenly warriors taking names and kicking butt! My Grandma herself made an indelible mark on my beliefs because when she married my Grandpa Ira, a black man, in the early 1950’s, they had to move — Pennsylvania’s cohabitation laws prevented them from living together. That social injustice made me angry then and continues to underpin my ministry outlook today. After a disappointing stint at a Presbyterian church, I swore off both church and religion.
When I married Kathy, I was religiously adrift but still read the Bible because I liked Jesus’ chutzpah, how he cared for those at the margins of society, how he shared his love with all. It wasn’t until our second child was due that Kathy and I decided to find a church home. We visited the nearby Lutheran Church and were very attracted by the pastor’s emphasis that we do not need to earn our way to heaven, but instead, that we are called to respond to God’s love by sharing that love with others. Over the next years, the pastor asked me to work with the youth, then to help with catechism, and then to preach when he was out of town. Finally, he asked, “Did you ever think of ordained ministry?”
I laughed profusely! To get into Seminary, I’d need an undergraduate degree — after barely graduating from high school and working only in steel mills. But the pastor was persistent and supportive. When I hadn’t known enough about Lutheranism to teach, he encouraged me to learn and to teach. He helped me enroll in a Lay Worship Leader program so I’d be equipped to preach in other area churches and now, he continued to help me prepare by paying for a test to assess my college readiness and by showing me colleges within commuting distance. With his and Kathy’s help, I went to Slippery Rock University full time, graduated, and began my journey as a seminarian.
Unlike Slippery Rock, which was nearby, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg was 230 miles away! It was not easy to be far from family or to live on one third of our family’s former income. In my last semester at seminary, I worked as a Lay Worship Leader at Grace Lutheran Church in Butler, PA closer to home.
As the semester came to an end, Grace Lutheran considered calling me as their Pastor and I had to deliver a “call sermon” before the congregational vote. I preached on the reading from Acts about Philip’s baptism of an Ethiopian Eunuch - someone excluded from Temple worship because of who he was. I challenged the Church to live out the inclusiveness of that text, to open its doors without prerequisites to people from all walks of life, whether black, white, gay, lesbian, or straight. I wanted the church to be fully aware before they voted - to call me for who I am, for what I believe. This appointment was followed by one in in Lexington SC.
When looking for a new challenge, I was excited to learn about Reformation Lutheran Church, a Reconciling in Christ congregation. I humbly accepted their call in August 2013. Now, I get to serve an awesome church, filled with radical hospitality, where my interracial Grandma and Grandpa could have attended. A congregation where my lesbian daughter and her partner can attend. A congregation willing to live out the fullness of Jesus’ grace, identified with his radical love and inclusiveness.
My wandering journey has taken me from being unchurched, through Pentecostal Holiness, and Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, a steel worker to college and seminary. I believe God has led and equipped me to lead this congregation, where I can truly say that ALL are welcomed and affirmed. Won’t you come give us a try?