I’ve always aspired to journal as part of my spiritual disciplines. I like to write, but no matter what I’ve done, there has been no discipline in my journaling. Over the years, I’ve bought and been given the most beautiful journals…and the plainest. I’ve bought wide-lined ones and some with blank pages, but the everyday practice of using them just eludes me. With the same good intentions, I started a blog right after Annual Conference in 2013 – a digital journal. My intention was to share my experiences as a way of opening up dialogue about lay leadership in the church. For those of you who have been kind enough to read an entry, thank you for putting up with my stories. Since Google can tell me everything about myself…I know that the highest number of people read my blog post back in the middle of July last year when I talked about leaving the Connectional Ministries staff. I’m still trying to figure out what that tells me!
I often use that digital journal when I am find myself reflecting on happenings of a particular day or as I process experiences that have touched my soul. That question weighed heavily on my mind as I returned to Richmond after the last board meeting for Discipleship Ministries. The gate at the airport in Nashville was filled with college students headed out for spring break. I curiously watched a young man work the crowd of other students at the gate with the greatest of skill and ease. He not only stood out because of his extroverted questioning of the others’ plans for their breaks but because his hair was bright pink. I told myself that whomever he sat next to was going to have an interesting flight….Guess who that ended up being.
The window seat was taken by an anxious-looking young woman. Norman, my new young friend, was seated in the middle and started the conversation with her. She was a freshman planning to become a teacher for students who are deaf. They chatted about their colleges and campus life. Norman told us he was a sixth year senior – who was still not going to graduate this year – because he had changed majors so many times. Philosophy was his final chosen area of study. His plan was to go to seminary, but to teach, not preach, and to be able to debate religion with his mother – who by the way did not know his hair was pink. Norman then turned his attention to me. I silenced him for a moment when upon his asking where I worked, I described my role with Virginia United Methodist Homes. When he spoke again his question was “Did you always want to grow up to work with old people?” He laughed when I responded with “No, but I always wanted to grow up to be one!”
So, there on the plane, the question came again. How did I get to this place in my journey of faith? The answer is in a few drops of water…
I’ve lived in Richmond over 30 years now, but people still often ask me where I’m from. I think it has something to do with the way I talk. If you were to take I-581/Route 220 South out of Roanoke and drive for about 45 miles, you’d end up almost in the backyard of our family home in Henry County. Go about 15 more miles and you’ll be across the state line in North Carolina. I call Fieldale a village. The Federal government calls it a census-designated place which I think translates to a community with its own post office. For some reason, Fieldale with its vast population of around 800 people has three exits off the 220 By-Pass around Martinsville. Think of this in comparison to the City of Fredericksburg for those of you who travel Interstate 95. Technically, there is 1 exit with signage just for Fredericksburg on a highway that ranks 16th in a list of most traveled interstates in the United States. My hometown has three exits. Take the third exit for State Route 609, drive past my old house, wind around the curves, and you’ll come to the Smith River.
I went down to the river on Thursday and scooped up a jar of water. These drops of water started as headwaters somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As they trickled down from mountain springs to the creeks that feed the Smith River, I’m sure they picked up an accent that would sound like mine if they could talk. The drops of water flow on into the Dan River near Eden, NC, then into the Roanoke River, join into the Albemarle Sound, and finally grace the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. All along that journey, these tiny drops gain power and strength as they merge with other waters, supplying energy to villages and cities, sustaining the lives of those who live nearby, shifting the river banks and coastline. Transformation – that started with only a few drops of water.
It was water from this river that was scooped up and placed on my head at the baptismal font of Fieldale Methodist Church 54 years ago. The people of the congregation who took vows along with my parents that day to teach me how to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ came from the mountains further to the west and from the big cities of the north and east. Over the years, what they modeled and taught me grew stronger and became more deeply ingrained. All along my journey, those tiny drops of water have:
- reminded me of the power and amazing possibilities that come with being a part of the Body of Christ in this United Methodist Church,
- have given me strength to make it through challenging times,
- sustained me when my faith turned to doubt, and have guided the shifting of my understandings of who Jesus is and who he calls me to be.
Transformation – that started with only a few drops of water.
Each of us is called through our baptism to be a disciple in all areas of our lives and a living example of Christ’s love to the world – to bring the Gospel to life in our communities. To do that, we have to be willing to share our faith, our story, our call.
We need to reclaim our identity as people of God, all created and gifted by God for unique life in the body of Christ and in the world. To do this, our attitudes and expectations about church have to change. We have to move from the comfortable place of being recipients of services – asking what the church is doing to meet our needs – to a much more dynamic partnership of sharing in the gifts of the community, moving from consumers with a membership mindset to truly shared ministry. This moves us to ministry where all Christians are the signs and bearers of God’s love, where we – no matter what our titles, status, ability, or politics – show that we are Christ-centered people working for a needy world – bringing about transformation.
Transformation – that starts with only a few drops of water.
The ways we each respond to God’s call upon our lives are unique and varied, yet one thing is absolutely clear. We are all as the “laos” – the whole people of God – called by our baptisms to be ministers. The structure of the church sets some apart for specific work, but we are all called to offer our gifts and talents to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
And I continue to be amazed at how God works in my life – this humble child of God baptized by little drops of water from the Smith River.
- God still calls me as a disciple of Jesus Christ to say “yes” even when I don’t think I have all the talents and graces for the task ahead.
- I’m called beyond the limits of my knowledge and experience in some way almost every day to step out in faith.
- I’m called to never stop learning or exploring my faith or questioning my beliefs. You never stop growing as a disciple.
- God gives me the strength and the words, even when my knees shake and the sweat begins to roll as those scary words of “testimony” and “witness” become a sharing of my story of faith with you at this Laity Luncheon or on the street with a stranger.
- And just like so many others that we know from Bible stories who were just minding their own business when God recognized their gifts and potential, I am called – and youare called – over and over to a life of servanthood as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.
I think I just defined what it means to be a disciple…and it started with a few drops of water.