On Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, I shared Jeff and I’s calling to Malawi in six worship services at St. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne. St. Joe is our home church – Jeff grew up there, was confirmed there, and eventually where we married. Our family went to St. Joe when I was in middle school and it was there that I first heard my call to ministry and was invited to serve as liturgist.
I was surprised at the depth of emotion I experienced as I walked into the sanctuary on Saturday night for the first service. I remembered each midnight Christmas Eve service, the baptisms when Curt and Jeff would throw water out into the congregation calling us to remember our baptisms and be thankful, a Thanksgiving service while in college, my nephew’s baptism, and our marriage. Lots has changed at St. Joe since I worshiped there but the place is holy ground; it holds special memories and personal history.
The Saturday evening service is also a communion service. As I heard the words of institution and prayed with the congregation I re-lived another communion service at St. Joe when I was 17 years old. I had recently told my parents and pastor that I had heard a call to ordained ministry. We were sitting in our usual place, right side about 5 rows back, and I was watching Curt and Jeff serve communion. I was struck by the uniqueness of each person who came to receive, more aware than I had been of the individual stories, joys and burdens that each person brought with them to that moment. And I was in awe of the peace and contentment on the ministers’ faces as they served communion. It was clear and beautiful moment, but in the next instant it was replaced by an overwhelming sadness that swept over me. I could feel the sadness laying on me and I heard clearly the words, “You will never do that.” The memory can still bring me to tears.
So as I sat in the congregation last Saturday night, I wondered again about the message in those words. I have not been able to do “that”; my gifts for ministry and the call I heard so long ago have not led to ordination as I thought they would. I have preached on occasion, I have served as liturgist, I have assisted in serving communion, and I have even been on staff as a youth pastor. But I cannot do “that” and I have not found peace yet around my call.
Wise friends and companions on my journey have suggested that I did not hear God’s full message during the communion service 17 years ago. Maybe there was more, “You will never do that because you will do…” Receiving communion at St. Joe last Saturday, I prayed that my friends are right. I hope that this calling to Malawi might be the end of that sentence. Not the end of my journey, but a balm or a healing that I long for.