Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The end --- the beginning

Strange day to say the least.

I know, it is Tuesday June 30, 2015.  But for me it is the end of journey.

In the fall of 1979, I was a sophomore at Northern Illinois University.  I was hired to clean the Wesley Foundation on Campus and in the process I met the new pastor for the Co-op ministries of the Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ and UCC churches.  We became fast friends.

I had been wrestling with my call to ministry, and Gordy helped me to see what God was desiring of me.  He invited me to be a part of the ministry (there wasn’t much going on) and we started a campus worship service.  Soon we had more students involved than the United Methodists so they asked us to move out of the building.  I had my first experience in church planting as we rented a storefront and began to meet there.

It was there, that I preached my first sermon (I feel sorry for those who had to sit quietly and listen), and it was also there that I lead communion for the first time.  By the time I was a senior, I had made the decision to attend The Divinity School at Duke University.

Three great things came out of my time at Duke.  Most importantly, it was there that I met fellow student Nancy Hollowell.  I also met many lifelong friends, including Mark Wilkins (who I met the first day of school).  Duke helped shaped my ability to think, I added to the foundation that I had been taught at home and at NIU --- that it was OK to think outside the box, that it was OK to not toe the company line. (It did cost me an “A” in one class --- but that is another story).

36 years ago, I embarked on a journey toward ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.  Every stop along the way, has helped make me the person (for good and bad) that I am today.  My first church that I served was as an intern in rural North Carolina --- the church name eludes me (Mt Pleasant maybe?) --- the pastor there was insistent that you never say goodbye.  It was a strange time.  Then I served as youth intern at Duke Memorial.  The Sr Pastor and I did not get along, but he gave me a gift.  It was there that I met Nancy.  The Pastor had been her Pastor in High School so she attending.  My life was transformed because of it.  Tom will never know what a gift he gave me!  Then I was a student pastor at Richfield-New Mount Tabor churches, about 110 miles west of Duke.  I commuted back and forth to school.

I wish I still had connections there.  Because I need to tell them THANKS.  They were there for me when Stewart got sick and died.  More than any other church I have served --- they helped to shape who I am today.

I served four Churches in Indiana: Pretty Lake Trinity, just outside Plymouth, Celebration in Warsaw, Simpson in Fort Wayne and Ridge in Munster.  I hope that at each one I helped people to realize that God loves them ANYWAY.  That God’s love cannot be earned, nor can we stop God from loving us.

And even as I say “goodbye” to parish ministry, I know that message will always ring in me.

What drew me to ministry was two things: First, helping people know that they are of value.  I think if you look over my years that is the overarching theme.  But the second theme, and I always struggled with the tension that it can create with the first, is that God desires us to be just.

The prophets are what draw me to God.  The prophets are what I like to read and study.  Whether we are talking about the prophets of old: Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Nahum, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, etc., or the great prophet Jesus.  They challenge me, they humble me, they inspire me.

It is that tension that led me to where I am today.  I believe that I have been called to where I am.  God desires that I be a voice in the wilderness for some of what society often feels is the least of its children.  The people of TradeWinds inspire me, and have given me a new outlook on life.

Yes, today is a strange day.  I say goodbye to Ridge Church.  I say goodbye to pastoral ministry.  But at the same time, I say yes --- yes to loving and speaking out for those we often forget.


R Keith Howard said...

Steve, it will be interesting to see where God leads you. Often I have struggled with the why me and why there, ut just as you know, it always works out in the end.

Best wishes as you walk this new trail!


Steve Conger said...

Thanks Keith, it is an exciting time.