Have you ever been asked a simple question about yourself that defies a simple answer? I’m sure you have. The one I find most difficult to respond to in any sensible way, much less explain, is how I became an Episcopal priest.
I didn’t go to seminary until shortly before my fiftieth birthday. A late bloomer, so to speak. I was not unhappy in my career. In fact I enjoyed almost every moment of it. I got to travel throughout the country and most of Canada while poking my nose into all kinds of interesting things. Now and then I got to hobnob with princes, dictators, presidents and legislators. I got to know people in plush New York corner offices and beat up old ranches in the rural west. Even more interesting was my slow recognition that I hungered more for reading in theology, assisting in worship services, offering the occasional lay sermon, becoming certified as a Stephen Minister, and sitting in on any available class.
Maybe all of that made me more aware of conversations in the business world that led to talk about God, and Christ, and Christianity, and Christians. In my early forties I took a three year continuing education course, sponsored in part by Notre Dame, called the Academy for Organization Management. I got a dandy certificate out of it. More important, I was deep into a a seminar lecture on Camus that had morphed into a discussion of the theology of love. My friend and colleague Tony Nemetz was the instructor. He suddenly stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You could listen to this God talk all day couldn’t you. Pay attention when God is talking to you.” That began some serious thinking.
Well over two years before I went to seminary my wife and I began to talk with our rector, close friends, and the bishop about what it might mean for me to do such a thing. One thing led to another, and in the Episcopal Church that means many hoops and hurdles as one group after another tries to discern whether it’s just another crazy idea, or is God really calling this person to ordained ministry. Speaking of crazy, somewhere in my files are the results of my psychological testing confirming that I am not psychotic. What a relief! Four kids moving from their teens into their twenties had left me in doubt about that. The oldest was anxious about what would happen to us. The youngest was anxious about what would happen to her. The two in the middle said it sounded cool to them.
One thing kept leading to other things that ended with me entering seminary, discovering that an older student could keep up with younger ones, and coming out the other end as an Episcopal priest knowing that this was what I was always meant to be, even though it took thirty years of preparation to get me ready for it. I take some comfort in knowing that others also entered the fullness of their ministry rather late in life: Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and Joshua to name a few. My friend Tony died too young, in his early sixties. I did not know until his death that he was a third order Franciscan. It was said of him that more “men” had been called to the priesthood through him than any other person. Who knew?