Yesterday I shared a bit about my experiences that led me to the doorway of seminary. Today, I will share with you my two experiences in seminary, which provided a foundation for and formation of my calling. I received my Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. It was a time of great learning, challenge, exploration, making mistakes (a lot of them) and growing (usually most from the stumbles and bumbles of mistakes). I went to seminary full-time. I enjoyed the classes. If I had to pick, my favorite was my New Testament classes because the professor was engaging and caring.
The joke among pastors once we graduate and begin to serve the church is, “Seminary didn’t teach me that!” This could refer to filling the boiler on cold New Hampshire Sunday mornings, as I did in my first calling. Or how to deal with a grief-stricken parent at the death of a child. Or how to preach Sunday after Sunday; where do I find the strength or original content each week? Another insider joke is that most pastors have three to five sermons in us that we repeat on a loop. I will leave it up to you if you find that to be true about me.
Eventually, I came to understand that while I loved many of the tasks of being a pastor, my favorite was Sunday morning and preaching. I loved the art of crafting a sermon. I loved the creativity that went into writing, the exploration of Scripture, and weaving a connection begin the holy words in the Bible and God’s holiness in our lives. This led me to enroll at Luther Seminary for a doctorate program in preaching. Those are some of my fondest memories of my education. Every summer for three weeks, I would travel to Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Teachers would help us explore what it meant to embody God’s word and share a meaningful message for the day. It was a time of growth and my mind felt heavy with new ideas. It was during my doctorate process that I left behind a manuscript and began memorizing my sermon. This helped free me from words on a piece of paper. My practice is that I still write a full manuscript that I memorize each week. There is a wonderful dance between the work of writing and memorizing and inviting the Spirit in as I speak the words on Sunday morning.
I have heard it said that a gift or calling is something you find life-giving that others think is too difficult. For example, I see someone sit down, play the piano, and sing, I think, “Wow, that is impressive!!” I could never move my fingers and my mouth at the same time. When I ask the musician about it, she will say, “It’s nothing.” Part of the reason is usually the person practices, just as I practice memorizing my sermon. But sometimes finding your calling from God is an activity you find life-giving and comes to you. This is not to say that you never feel stress when doing your calling. I know I am still nervous on Sunday mornings. I know musicians also have butterflies in their stomachs. I know teachers who don’t eat before lecturing. The nervousness is because we know we are doing something that is life-giving and where our deepest prayer is to let God’s light shine through us. When we do what matters and makes a difference to us whether that is music or quilting or teaching or listening or being a nurse or sharing a sermon, we know something is at stake.
I hope in the comment section you might post something that for you is life-giving. Or better yet, call me to talk. Maybe it is an activity someone says you are amazing at and you think, “Really?” Yes, really, it is amazing when you sing, play the organ, lead a meeting, teach, help a child learn to read, listen to a Middle Schooler, care for animals, garden, and even preach.
I pray you will hold these words in your heart and God might move from them unveiling a calling for you in these days.