Monday, September 28, 2015

Called to the Priesthood

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and a significant one in my continued spiritual journey. Melanie and I were voted into the priesthood of Community of Christ. The priesthood works differently in Community of Christ than it does in the LDS Church, and since the LDS Church was my default frame of reference for 30+ years, my story will involve a fair amount of comparing and contrasting.

Melanie and I officially received calls to the priesthood on the morning of August 29th. Melanie was called to be a priest, and I was called to be an elder. We were told we had up to one year to determine whether or not we ourselves felt called, and we were assured that if either of us turned down the calling, there would be no questions asked and no judgment passed. I myself have felt called to this work for quite some time. My entire journey into Community of Christ has been founded on the overwhelming sense that God has ministerial plans for me in Community of Christ. Thus, I didn’t feel a need to postpone my answer. Once everything had been explained, I accepted my call then and there.

In the LDS Church, the congregation typically isn’t aware of a priesthood call until it is presented for a sustaining vote. The whole shebang takes literally 10 seconds. In Community of Christ, priesthood calls are presented to the congregation with several weeks’ notice. Members of the congregation are expected to pray about the callings and to seek their own testimonies concerning whether or not a priesthood candidate is truly called of God to the proposed priesthood office. Weeks later, a business meeting takes place in which priesthood callings are on the agenda. The pastor introduces each priesthood candidate and offers his/her witness of the call. The priesthood candidate then addresses the congregation and gives a personal witness of the call. Members of the congregation are then given an opportunity to speak in support of the call. It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes to work through each priesthood call, but the entire process is overflowing with the Spirit and with love. I don’t know if it’s a Community of Christ tradition or simply something our own pastor does, but envelopes were also available, each with a different priesthood candidate’s name on it, in which congregants were able to put letters of support. It was quite a beautiful thing.

I ended up writing my personal witness at pretty much the very last minute, maybe an hour or so before Melanie and I were heading out the door to church. It was a much more stressful and rushed situation than I would have preferred, but at least I got something down on paper so I wasn’t winging it and rambling incoherently. Here are the words I spoke:

Imagine you are walking and come upon a path that veers off in a slightly different direction than the one you’ve been headed. Imagine you feel compelled to walk that path. Suppose that as you walk that new path, you encounter scenes you had never before expected to see on your walk. For example, you pass by a lake that you never knew existed, but which is one of the most beautiful sights you have ever seen in your entire life. If I were to ask you, “When did you feel compelled to walk past the lake?”, you might find it difficult to answer the question. In one sense, you felt compelled to walk past the lake the moment your feet were drawn to the path that led to the lake. You didn’t know about the lake, but you were heading straight for it as something beckoned to you to walk that path, to keep going, to continuously put one foot in front of the other and see where it takes you. Perhaps you even knew, I am going to see some amazing things on this path. I can sense that something spectacular awaits me around the bend. You felt compelled to find out what it was. It happened to be the lake. But once you saw the lake, you didn’t need to ask yourself anew if you should walk past it. Instead, you thought, “Ah ha. This is it. This is what I’ve been waiting to see. And it’s more beautiful than I had ever imagined. There is nowhere else I would rather be at this very moment than where I am right now.”
The question I am meant to address is, do I feel called to be an elder in Community of Christ? I wish that a simple “yes” could convey to you just how deeply I feel that call. But I do. And I have felt the call for a long time now. For me, that call begins in 2012, long before I knew much about Community of Christ, other than that it existed, and years before I would consider visiting a Community of Christ congregation. I hope that my lake analogy makes sense of how such a thing is possible. In 2012, something changed in me and set me on a path that was unlike any I could have anticipated. Since that time, I have felt a persistent ache in my heart—and at times it has been an almost unbearably intense desire—to minister to others, particularly in a spiritual manner. Now, I don’t want anyone to assume that this means I think highly of myself. I feel painfully aware of many of my shortcomings, and painfully aware of the fact that I likely have many other shortcomings of which I am entirely unaware. (I don’t know which is worse.) But, for all it may be worth to you as you seek to discern whether or not God truly is calling me to be an elder, I can tell you this: my desire is pure. I want to serve you. I may question my own abilities, but I can promise you my love and sincerity. Those are offered to you without hesitation, and they are in no short supply. I trust God will help me figure out the rest. And I do offer you my witness that God has been present all along this path that has led me here, to this metaphorical lake, that once I saw it, I didn’t need to ask if I should walk past it. I’ve been waiting for it, and it is beautiful, and my heart cries “yes.” I hope that you can accept whatever imperfect service I have to offer. Thank you.

Melanie gave a stirring testimony of her own call, citing her notes from our second visit to Community of Christ, in which she had written down some feelings she had then about the priesthood and also some words from a hymn we sang that day that really resonated with her and, she realized when recently revisiting them, spell out pretty much exactly what the role of priest involves. Needless to say, I had many occasions to get choked up during this meeting.

At this point, neither Melanie nor I have actually been ordained to the priesthood. Unlike the LDS Church, Community of Christ requires training for the priesthood. Calls to the priesthood are not automatic, and there is no reason to expect a call to the priesthood simply in virtue of being an adult member of the church in good standing. That’s simply not how it works in Community of Christ. Community of Christ treats the priesthood more like an honest-to-goodness calling in and of itself, so they consider it important that members of the priesthood fully understand what their roles and responsibilities are. There is a series of classes that Melanie and I will each need to complete, with some of those classes being common to both of us, which means we can take them together (which I think is pretty neat). I don’t know that it’s possible for either of us to be ordained before December, and even that might be a rush job. I want to be ordained as soon as possible, and I certainly have more availability to work on the classes. I think at least some of them are done at your own pace, at your own convenience, so I might be able to work through them fairly quickly if I want to. But we’ll see.

In conclusion, I’ll just mention that once Melanie and I are both ordained, we will share the ability to administer communion, to baptize, and to perform marriages. Pretty cool stuff. I think I’ll bawl like a baby the first time I hear Melanie bless communion. I can hardly wait.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful testimony and description of your call. I look forward to the sacred moment you and Melanie bless communion together!