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Called

 

Larry Hollon
September/October 2014

I was in my teens when a matriarch of our small congregation asked me if I had "considered full-time Christian service." I had no idea what she was talking about.

But the question stuck. A seed was planted. The church family nurtured me during the stormy years of adolescence, and that nurturing stuck to me like jelly on skin.

As my understanding of her question grew, I began entertaining the possibility of pastoral ministry. For a long time, it came behind playing baseball on a college scholarship and going to law school. I was also intrigued when another adult encouraged me to consider international law.

But the question from the woman from my church continued to gnaw. I was curious. I had experienced a nurturing community in the church, and had come to understand that life was more than the work we all must do to survive.

I began to seek the counsel of a patient clergyperson at the church. He listened to me as I rambled about faith, the church and society. God bless him, he never talked down to me. He was never condescending to the immature youth I was.

When I went away to college, a first for my family, I rushed home on weekends to talk more with him. He received me with graciousness and with useful and sometimes firm counsel I needed.

Even in my final year of high school, I had begun to feel a tug away from baseball and law, despite encouragement from other adults to pursue either. A badly broken leg in the summer of my senior year ended my aspirations of seriously playing ball in college. I never fully recovered from the injury.

Law still tugged at me – but so did an uneasiness that at first was almost imperceptible. It was less a rejection of studying law than an attraction to something more compelling and in alignment with what I was beginning to feel and to believe. It felt like something or someone was calling me to a different future than I had planned.

What I did not understand at the time was that I was going through a discernment process to come to terms with what I would later discover to be a belief that God had plans other than those I was laying.

Perhaps no one but the Rev. Ralph R. Reed could have counseled me in the way I was to go. He was a lawyer turned clergy person. He didn't preach platitudes and use the frothy language of piety that was off-putting to me. His preaching was concise, to the point and even sharp on occasion. He seemed not to suffer fools lightly, even as he continued to nurture me.

I went through the license-to-preach school and Course of Study under his tutelage and began to comprehend what it means to experience a call to ordained ministry.

It was an exciting and sometimes frightening journey, but one that seemed so correct, once I'd begun. I was appointed as a supply pastor through college and seminary. Upon graduation, I was appointed to Aldersgate United Methodist church in Omaha, a community that holds a deep and positive place in my heart.

But a call is a living thing. God continues before us, beckoning us to grow and evolve.

I found expressing faith through writing a "fit." I'm a visual person, so photography and video are also useful means of expression. The intersection of faith and culture has always intrigued me. How do we communicate the teaching of Jesus in conversation with people who don't know or use religious language?

And The United Methodist Church has expanded my view of the world. I am a global citizen who understands that God's kingdom is not limited by geography, culture or social order.

When a global ecumenical organization hired me to work as a communicator, it truly was not by my design. The pieces simply seemed to align with that early commitment to this call.

Today, I understand that when we do the work of communications on behalf of the church — telling the stories of the church and of its work to heal the world — we are doing theology.

In this issue, we explore the meaning of the call of God upon our lives. God calls us all. We each have a ministry we express in different ways and with different skills. But when we are aligned with God's intent for us, we find the challenges, sacrifices and struggles to be outweighed by fulfillment, purpose, meaning and our relationship to God and to each other.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA + CULTURE blog at www.larryhollon.com.