Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Son of a Preacher Man"

The other day a friend from High School asked me via facebook how I became an Episcopal Priest. It's not the first time some has wondered how the son of a Southern Baptist Preacher jumped ship and became an Episcopalian, much less a priest. Even I admit it is a little weird. My dad insists on addressing every letter to me as Father Jason. Anyway, in response to my friend's request here's the story.

I am very proud to have grown up the son of a preacher man. My dad taught me how to preach. I don't remember specific sermons of his that well, but I absorbed how a sermon should flow logically from him. Unconsciously took in lessons on delivery and flow; how to be comfortable in the pulpit; how to speak loud enough for everyone to hear but not to sound like you are yelling at people; also when to whisper and when to let the fire loose. If it wasn't for him I wouldn't know what to do in the pulpit.

Despite what I learned from dad, the Southern Baptist world and worldview just weren't for me. I never really fit in, and looking back I think we all knew it. By the time I got to college I was pretty burnt out on church and church people for that matter. I had been more than active over the years in everything from summer camp and vacation bible school to singing in Christmas programs and the choir. I had to wear a bear suit for one of the Christmas programs. What a bear has to do with the birth of the Jesus in 1st century Palestine still alludes me. Anyway, like many a college student I stopped going to church all together. I called it time off for good behavior.

Over the first two years of college, two things pointed me toward the Episcopal Church. Near the end of my first semester, my fraternity big brother told me to show up at the front of the music building and dress nice. Since I was a pledge at the time, I said, "yes sir," put on my best Huxtable Sweater, and showed on time. We jumped in his car and drove to Sewannee, the University of the South, and attended the Lessons and Carols service offered by the university choir in their glorious stone Gothic style chapel. I had never been to a Lessons and Carols service. The choral music was stunning, and it was a marvel to me for the readings to just be scripture. That they would let the scriptures speak for themselves with out some man standing up and for 45 minutes tell you what the 30 second reading meant was complete foreign to me. Plus, there was this starwberry blond in the soprano section that I swear had the voice of an angel and I fell in love with her. Never met her or even found out her name, but I swear for that hour and a half I was enthralled. This was my first experience of the Episcopal church.

Next, what pointed toward the Anglican world was a persistent invitation. I had a friend, Jessica Dunnavant, that kept telling me that I was an Episcopalian and I just didn't know it yet. I had no idea what an Episcopalian was, but since it involved church I was not interested.

She kept bugging me about it, and finally I relented and went with her to the Episcopal Campus Ministry at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro Tennessee. I expected to show up and sit in rows of folding chairs and have some man tell us what the bible meant. Instead we cooked dinner together, sat around a table and talked. We got to know each other and shared prayer concerns. It was comfortable and accepting; so, I came back. It was a month before I went to Sunday service with her at St. Paul's but, again, I was enthralled with the music and moved by the liturgy. The worship wasn't centered around the preacher. It was centered around the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper as we called it down home. For some reason, and I could not articulate it at the time, this made the worship more about God, and pointed me toward God. It made worship more of a verb, something I did instead of something I watched or merely attended.

I became more and more active over the years, until finally my last semester of College I was at church four times a week, a long way from freshman year of not going at all. I was confirmed that May and then in September moved to Cincinnati to start Graduate School.

In Ohio, I couldn't find an Episcopal Campus ministry, so I ended up going to a Lutheran one. I knew even less about the Lutheran Church, but next thing I know I am working as a summer camp counselor for Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Ohio (LOMO for Short). Two things happened that summer: I learned I could preach and I met Jodie who is now my wife of 8 years.

As I approached the end of my Master's Degree studies, I began to be more than a little burnt out on academic life, especially the academic music world. I was still applying to Doctorate Programs for music, ignoring the gift for preaching I had uncovered the previous summer, but something just wasn't right.

On the day I applied to the doctorate program at CCM, as I was licking the envelope, I got an email from my old campus pastor from Tennessee who was by then working near Omaha, NE. He told me of a new program in Omaha called Resurrection House for folks considering ministry in the Episcopal Church. I couldn't help but consider that a swift kick of Christian love from God that I needed to recognize the preaching gift and follow God not me. So, off to Nebraska I went. It didn't take too long before God slapped me again with a "alright you followed me to the land of corn, why won't you following me to ordination too." Next thing I know the diocese of Nebraska is sending me to Seminary, then I'm married, then ordained, and things keep moving faster and faster.

The short version is I kept praying for God to show me what to do, and God kept slapping me on the head going, "I am showing you! Pay better attention!" (no pun intended with "I am") I hope you enjoyed my story, and may God always give you a swift kick of Christian Love when you need it.

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