Each year, on the first Sunday of the year, I answer “Questions for the Pastor” in my sermon in worship. Slips of paper are included in the bulletin that day, and congregants can write down any question they wish. Following the scripture reading the Deacons collect the questions from the congregation and bring them forward to me. I take them into the pulpit and answer as many as I can, sight unseen. There are always more questions leftover than get answered. Usually, I try to address at least some of them in future sermons. But this year, I decided I’d answer a few here, in my pastor’s column.
Question: When did you know you wanted to become a pastor?
Remarkably, I was in the fourth grade when I first heard my call to ordained ministry. I was sitting in worship between my father and my mother. (They had to separate me from my sister so we would behave!) The sun shining through the nondescript stained glass windows stirred up the dust in the air, and I believe the organ was playing. Or maybe it was during the sermon? Whenever it was, in that moment, on that sunny Sunday morning, I knew. I just knew! I was called to be a pastor. I didn’t know what it meant to be a pastor, of course. But I knew it was what I was supposed to do, supposed to be.
Two years later our Christian Education director asked me, randomly, “Bill, have you ever thought about being a minister?” We were walking through the church yard on the way into the church. I don’t think it was a Sunday morning. “Yes,” I replied. “I have!” She said, “OK, I think that’s a good idea. I’m going to put your name on a list.” Two decades later, she attended my ordination at Rosedale Congregational Church UCC in Kansas City, Kansas.
The feeling that I was called to be a pastor persisted throughout my childhood and into my youth. I played with the idea of being an architect in high school, even going as far as applying to and getting accepted into the architectural program at Texas Tech University (which I declined). Instead, pursued an undergraduate in Sociology and Spanish, entering seminary immediately after graduation.
As important as my earliest sense of call was for me, I count myself blessed that I continue to feel called to ministry. I have no question that being a pastor is what I’m supposed to do. And I’m exceedingly grateful that I get to answer that call to ministry in this place, joining you in the ministry of First Church Congregational.
Question: Have you ever questioned your faith or turned your back on God?
I’m not aware of having turned my back on God, nor have I had a time I gave up on God or renounced my faith. From early childhood through this very day, I have counted myself a Christian, and a disciple of Jesus. That’s quite remarkable when I think about it — a testimony to my family of origin, the church I grew up in, and the countless fellow Christians who have encouraged and accompanied me along the way, decade after decade. I have truly been blessed.
But that’s not to say I haven’t questioned my faith. I certainly have! In the long, difficult moments of doubt, through overwhelming feelings of fear at the face of the unknown, and in the midst of frustration or even anger, physical pain, broken heartedness, suffering, or the loss of a loved one, I have doggedly held on to the promises of God. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” the Apostle Paul wrote. I have held God to that promise, sometimes through long periods of uncertainty, of self-doubt, of other-doubt. I’ve clung to God out of sheer determination, trusting the Spirit to lead me where I need to go, even when I’ve had no clue where to place my foot for my next step. I’ve told myself that God will not abandon me through the times (moments, days, even months) when I have felt most alone. I’ve wondered however I will make it through, all the while trusting that I will make it through because I am held in divine love.
Somehow, quite remarkably, God has never let me down. I’ve always ended up where I needed to be. Not necessarily where I wanted to be! But where I needed to be. I’ve always made it through the difficult moments. There have been really hard times, whole periods when it seemed impossible! But I’ve made it through. With scars, sometimes. Through tears, sometimes. With a lot of loss, sometimes. But somehow, by no small miracle, which I cannot explain but for which I am grateful, I have made it through as a person of faith. Not only that, but I have thrived, truly. I have continued to grow in faith, hope,
and joy, day by day, year by year. I marvel at that. And I give God thanks.
See you in church…