At the core of my work identity I am a Presbyterian pastor. No matter where life takes me, being a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a minister of the Word and Sacrament will be with me. What I do not yet know is where in the expansive PC(USA) structure I will wind up working over the long-term. God’s providence clearly guided the beginnings of my Presbyterian journey, and will to continue to do so in these ways of presbymergent/new monastic leading.
My first experiences of Presbyterianism grew out of my mom looking for activities to fill up our summers. Both my parents were raised in the 1950s regularly attending Presbyterian churches. As they made choices, several decades later, about raising our family we always had a tree at Christmas and never thought of going to church. Yet with four young children and summer approaching, my mom remembered enjoying Vacation Bible School when she was young. A few phone calls to local churches got me (the oldest) signed up for various VBS programs. The result of her decision would bring me to my two favorite weeks of every summer during elementary school. It also brought lots of blue Day Camp tee-shirts into my wardrobe and year-round singing of Day Camp songs.
In the decades to follow, my connections to PC(USA) grew deeper and wider. On the steps leading up to the chancel of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church I was baptized in 1991, ordained a deacon in 1999 and a Minister of Word & Sacrament in 2006.
The path, however, from Day Camp kid to ordination was not obvious for me. Graduating from the children’s ministry programs to middle school, I chose to go on a several-day summer trip that included a gospel presentation. Something stirred inside me. On that trip, I committed to becoming more involved in the youth group of that particular church in order to find out more about God. Though no one else went inside for quite awhile, my family did a lot of driving to and from church. Somewhere in middle school I obtained a student bible and highlighters for marking it up. I read and read and read the Bible. I shared with those around me about what I was learning at church and from the bible. My home life was in chaos, I prayed knowing God heard and would answer those prayers. Jesus was very near, the Holy Spirit active. The church’s high school programs included mission experiences in both local urban areas and outside the USA. Over time, it became apparent inside me that if I took seriously what my Presbyterian formation was leading to, it meant giving my whole life to following Jesus.
While in college I went on a six-week summer mission trip to Palestine with the church’s university ministry program. This led to changing the focus of my political studies degree from domestic policy to Middle Eastern studies. It also led me, after college, to join the church’s Middle East Global Outreach committee. In fact, returning to programs at my childhood church after graduating from college, I ended up involved in almost every area of adult programming. This was not what I had intended. I was working in the business world, single, and transitioning into adulthood. But I couldn’t stay away from Presbyterians. When the grad school bug took hold, I wondered about taking mission-related courses. Somewhere in the process of prayer and others’ input, this impulse led to filling out the paperwork for beginning the Presbyterian ordination process and to applying for entrance to a Masters of Divinity degree, the standard for Presbyterian ordination.
small church and mission experience
A beloved seminary professor during my first year at Fuller Theological Seminary shared in class how his family was involved at First Presbyterian Church, Altadena, inviting everyone to visit. This small, multi-ethnic/historically Japanese-American, church became ‘my church’ for the next five years. It is even where I preached my first sermon in a worship service, while doing a nine-month full-time pastoral internship. For the first time I experienced being part of a multi-generational church family. They introduced me to the ‘ancient’ tradition of church potlucks. Without much forethought I ended up going through Godly Play training, and then taught this Montessori-based approach to children’s Sunday School for three years. It has made me a self-avowed Godly Play fanatic. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to deepen their relationship with our Good Shepherd.
During my seminary years I also drew upon my business world skills in serving as the administrator at the Presbyterian Center for Mission Studies, now merged with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship. It led me to the Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors, whose annual conference at end of November is fantastic. In my seminary studies, along with the required courses, I completed a cross-cultural studies concentration with an emphasis on cultural anthropology. Along the way of the ordination process, a deep sense of God’s call to pastoring was overwhelmingly confirmed.
first call, presbymergent
Through the process of applying for associate, mission, and nearly any, pastor opportunities that cropped up, I eventually accepted a campus ministry position where there was a priest and a rabbi, but no minister. With this call I became a specialized minister member of the Presbytery of Southern New England. And after two delightful years of mentoring student leaders, and occasional pulpit supply, my Presbyterian journey took an even more surprising turn as it collided with my Emergent journey.
The recent past has seen me itinerating all over the country connecting with folks at Presbyterian and Emergent events who are wondering about presbymergent. To learn more about presbymergent go to the website, and how about joining the facebook group?