Spiritual Journey

Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. Thomas Merton

My Marks narrative takes the form of memoir, a storied life in first person, in which I narrate my preparation and readiness and humble yearning to serve God as ordained clergy. My spiritual autobiography continues throughout the essays, as I tell stories of growing up in the non-instrumental Church of Christ, which I consider fundamentalist. Without that part of my identity, my engagement with the Marks is incomplete. Until I began to weave my background into my faith as a member of the United Church of Christ, I was having trouble writing at all. Once I did, the narrative began to flow. I was home—still that small town girl from North Alabama who grew up in an old, stone, country church. I bring the old hymns and the Bible stories and dinner-on-the-grounds and Vacation Bible Schools and thousands of sermons and the Lord’s Supper and my baptism. I also bring my call to service in the ministry—as a ministerto administer the sacraments and rites of the church, to exercise pastoral leadership, to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be a servant in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world (UCC.org, What We Believe, Authorized Ministry).

I bring a commitment to the UCC advocacy for justice and wholeness. I bring a belief that God is still speaking, which I proclaim since God has spoken to me in the most profound revelation I have ever received. My responses are edgy, vulnerable, joyful, honest, and grateful. In giving this account of myself, I am struck by the bountiful grace of God in my life and on this journey. I invite you now to come with me on a part of it now.

The Church of Christ did not call ourselves fundamentalists; it is a word I use for the benefit of others. We called ourselves “Christians Only.” The truth the old-school Church of Christ does not readily admit to the outside world is that it does not consider anyone a real Christian who is baptized outside of it. Thankfully, as it continues to see its numbers shrink, this and other stringent beliefs and practices are slowly changing—much to the dismay of my father, an elder in The Church. I think we are the only denomination that considers itself—not the Catholic Church—The (one, true, ancient, primitive) Church.

My journey from the Church of Christ to the UCC is entwined with my spiritual journey toward ministry and seminary. Growing up, my family lived a mile from the church house. I loved church; as a child my little friends and I sat behind the song leader’s wife, the best alto in the church. To this day, I can harmonize with anything. As a girl child, what I could not do was lead songs, lead prayer, teach males in Sunday School after they had been baptized, preach, make announcements, serve the Lord’s Supper—I could not take part in conducting any part of the public service. Females young and old were to keep silent in church. As a young woman sitting in church one day, I realized that a 5 year-old boy could lead a song or a developmentally impaired man could serve communion—and these are good things—but I could not.

Soon after moving to Atlanta, I visited Pilgrimage UCC, and I ended up running out to my car where I sat and cried. Raised in the Church of Christ, I felt like a sinner even allowing for the possibility that I might attempt to worship in this “non-Christian” church. I felt like I was disappointing my mother and father—that, as they believed, this place didn’t even count as church. Those aspects I mentioned earlier—choir, piano, female pastor—presented a cognitive religious dissonance that my body reacted to. I tried to sit there, but the order of service was foreign to me. During the hymn, one with gender neutral language that was so dissimilar to the old hymns I knew by heart, I felt the conflict wash over me and ran out.

Seven years later I returned. During a meeting with that same pastor to discuss a research study for which I was hoping to get participants from the congregants, my spiritual history came up. And, quite naturally from that, my love of singing—and my mean alto. My husband is the choir director, she said. Let me introduce you. Hey Allen! I think I’ve recruited you a new alto. So, I joined the choir before I joined the church. By my next meeting with Pastor Kim, she had a white board in her office, with a list of ways I could use my gifts to serve God at PUCC! Since then, I continue to serve in various capacities, even preaching my first sermon on December 16, 2018, the third Sunday of Advent. I did not have the courage to tell my parents. Our UCC congregation has a choir with piano accompaniment, music ensembles, handbells, and sometimes a drum circle. Our female pastor sometimes offers the message accompanied by spiritual dance. In other words, the UCC is everything the Church of Christ is not, and no, my parents do not fully accept my membership in it. But they are trying. When I preached last month, I sent the Facebook link, and my mom “Liked” it. God is good.


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