The Wordsmith’s Forge
January, 2015. Forty years ago this month, Deanne and I packed up all our meager possessions in our old ‘64 Dodge Dart and a U-Haul wagon and moved to Wilmore, Kentucky, so I could begin classes at Asbury Theological Seminary. I was barely 21 years old, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
We had been married for just over a year. I had hurried up and finished my Bachelor’s degree a semester early so I could enter seminary mid-year. I was in a tearing hurry. I’ve mostly been in a hurry my whole life, I guess. Goal-driven. Wanting to make something happen. Eager to make a difference.
In many ways, it’s amazing that I was ever admitted to the clergy. It wasn’t that I was so young; most preachers entering the ministry were of an age with me back then. It was that I was so ill-prepared.
I had virtually no experience of the church as an adult layperson. For that matter, I had just about zero experience of the church as a youth. Nobody had ever discipled me. I hadn’t ever done church camp or confirmation class. I passed the seminary’s dreaded Bible Content Exam on the basis of one course in Bible as Literature I had taken my last semester as an undergraduate. People just assumed that you knew your stuff and had a regular prayer life and all the rest of it, or else why were you here? All I knew was that I had been called, so here I was.
I had never led anything or anyone before, other than being an Assistant Scoutmaster or a Chapter Chief in the Order of the Arrow. I drew on my Scouting experience a lot. I didn’t know the way things were traditionally done. Nor did I know anything about theological movements and differences. I figured seminary was seminary, and everybody in the church’s leadership believed all the right stuff. (What an innocent I was.)
Some people who are plunked down in the middle of a hothouse environment like Asbury either immediately become passionate devotees of the Way We’re Supposed to Do It, or they become passionate rebels against it. I was mostly baffled by the evangelical sub-culture. In some ways, I’m still baffled by it; even while I agree with their theology, what evangelicals think is groovy often fails to move me.
I made a lot of mistakes. I learned everything backwards. I still am far too unorganized in my inner life. But I have kept at it. And I’m still in a hurry. Still trying to make something happen. After forty years, I can laugh at how ill-prepared I was. And I give thanks to God for sustaining me along the way. I did not give up or burn out or lose my faith, as I have seen happen to others.
All of which means, I get to start another year preaching the Gospel and teaching the Faith and pastoring Ellettsville First United Methodist Church. Which is a privilege and a joy. To God be the glory!