See the sidebar on the blog main page for other entries in our series on Vocations.
As we've already talked about in our introduction to vocations, every person has a unique vocation from the Lord. Not everyone is called to the ordained ministry, and not all callings to vocational ordained ministry are the same. What follows is a short summary of my own sense of calling, and the story of how that happened.
Classic, But Not Generic
If you were to get a five word definition of the ministry of the priesthood, you couldn't get much better than "Ministry of Word and Sacrament." That is, as priests, we are primarily called to proclaim God's Word and to administer God's Sacraments. Ultimately, this is how I understand my call to ministry. In fact, these are the things that really drive me in ministry and in my life's calling. While this calling may seem obvious, among my peers and classmates who have sensed a call to the ministry, very few would boil it down to those two elements. But for me, this is the essence of what it means to be a minister of the Gospel: I bring the Gospel to the people through the proclamation and preaching of God's Word and through the signs and graces of the Sacraments.
How I knew
Like many boys who grew up in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal/Anglican churches, I first tasted the ministry as an acolyte (that is, an "alter boy"). While this was not when I received the call to ordained ministry, this was when the seeds were first planted. The seeds were never fully explored, though, as my family left the Catholic tradition before I was old enough to be confirmed. Nevertheless, throughout my youth I helped out in various ministry capacities at the Messianic Jewish congregation we subsequently attended, to the point that when I graduated from high school, I considered going to school to become a military chaplain or at least enlisting as a chaplain's assistant. In my undergraduate years, I became the youngest person to attend the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) Yeshiva, and eventually became a deacon at the congregation. When I completed my BA, I decided to continue my studies by pursuing a Master of Christian Ministry at Wayland Baptist University, simply because I didn't feel I had direction in life, and thought those studies would be fun.
Once would expect that with all of those things going on in life, a sense of call to the ordained ministry would be obvious, but as I entered professional life, I all but forgot about the earlier sense of calling. I did, however, continue to serve at the congregation and trickle through my graduate studies. In the former, I was given the opportunity to preach from time to time, and I made it a priority to focus on the Gospel when doing so. In the latter, I was exposed to Robert Webber's ideas of "Ancient-Future" worship, in which he introduced sacramental life to Evangelicals as a way of answering postmodern culture and regaining a sense of historic Christianity. This re-awakened a hunger for the Sacraments that I had experienced as a child.
As my twenties came to a close, I found myself in both a professional and spiritual crisis. I had experienced the wilderness of being in between churches for the first time in my adult life. I was finding a career in Real Estate to be less than fulfilling. The Lord had brought me through some dark times in my personal life, and into a godly ACNA parish, but I was quite aimless. As I was seeking the Lord's guidance and getting wise council from my father and other mentors, I received a letter from Wayland informing me that my two-year Master's degree was approaching seven years, and that I needed to make a decision whether or not I was going to complete it. I was reminded about the joy I had in preaching God's Word and in the partaking of the Sacraments, and distinctly heard a call to enter the ministry.
Answering the Call
In Anglicanism, a sense of call is not enough to answer the call; I needed to get confirmation from my parish and to complete my education. I met with my rector and my bishop, and worked to complete the second half of my Master of Christian Ministry degree. Rather than transfer to an Anglican seminary, the bishop wanted me to remain at my parish and assigned me significant independent study to supplement my Master's. I got more involved in the parish and was given opportunities to teach Sunday school, help lead a home group, and serve as a lay reader and lay eucharistic minister. Over the next couple of years the parish, vestry, rector, and bishop observed me, got to know me, and confirmed my calling. In April of 2013 I was ordained a deacon. In October of the same year, I was ordained as a priest.
Throughout my early formation, it was obvious that I was called to parish ministry rather than missionary work or church planting. My primary gifts have always been in pastoral work and in teaching, which fits well with life as a parish priest. My call to All Saints has given me greater opportunities to exercise my ministerial calling, and I have never been happier. Just before I was called to All Saints, I became a husband, and recently became a father, adding a new dimension to my call and to my priesthood. While there have certainly been challenges and trials, they have been far outweighed by the joy of living out my vocation in increasing ways.
Posted on August 5, 2015
by Fr. Isaac Rehberg filed under