Ad Clerum on Vocation

Letter to Clergy from Interim Bishop Minns

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)

As a child I knew that I was gifted in Mathematics –I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of taking abstract concepts and applying them to everyday situations. Mathematics also provided me with a path into further education, and I graduated from Birmingham University with an Honours degree in Mathematics and Statistics. I was very proud of my first business card that identified me as a “Mathematician” working in Operations Research for Mond Division of ICI – a UK-based chemical company rather like Dow or DuPont. My work was more than just a job – I felt called to the world of Applied Mathematics. Eventually it led to an invitation to work in Operations Research at Mobil Oil’s headquarters in New York City, where I rapidly progressed up the career ladder.

And then one night, as I headed home, I heard a voice on a New Haven commuter train. It came from the far end of a crowded railroad car and it shocked everyone, because the unspoken rule on those trains was that no-one spoke out loud. This was 1973 – before mobile phones!

“Tonight is my last night!” a weary voice announced. “I’ve retired today, and I don’t know what I will do for the rest of my life!” No one said a word but quickly went back to their newspapers. I recognized the man who spoke – he was one of the regular commuters and had likely been riding that train for thirty or more years, and now it had all come to an end.

His words echoed in my head. One thing I knew – I did not want to be him. I did not want to spend the rest of my life on that train, traveling back and forth to my office in New York City and finishing up with nothing.

That was the beginning of two years of waiting upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance and listening to the people around me. Many of our friends, people whose opinions we respected, were convinced that I was being called to ordained ministry. But I wasn’t so sure. Angela and I were very involved in youth ministry and had witnessed many lives transformed by the Gospel. But the thought of abandoning my corporate career with all of its benefits, risking greatly reduced financial resources for our children – that was too much.

I wrestled for months. Some days I would spend my lunch hour walking the streets of Manhattan arguing with God. Finally, Angela asked, “How is it that you can trust God for your salvation, but not for our provision?”

There was only one possible answer and there was no going back, so we met with the Bishop of Connecticut and began the ordination process.

In the fall of 1975, we settled in at Virginia Seminary, Alexandria, but the vocation battle continued. This time, however, it was Angela who struggled. In 1976 the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood. The prevailing view on campus was that ordination was THE way for women to really serve God and the Church – all other vocations fell far short. Angela struggled with this idea, because even though she was the dedicated mother of four children ages four to nine, she wanted to give herself fully to the Lord’s service. And so she wrestled.

And then one night she had a dream – in it she had died and found herself at the judgment seat of Christ. He welcomed her and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant – you did exactly what I called you to do!” Grateful but curious, Angela asked just what that was.“You smiled at one person!” was the surprising answer – and then she woke up, anxious to tell me all about it.

I remember being rather jealous of this remarkable dream, for I could tell that Angela found it enormously encouraging and struggles about her calling abated. There was, however, an astonishing sequel. Six weeks later we were serving at our fieldwork parish in Haymarket, Virginia, when a woman approached Angela and asked if they could talk. The woman told Angela that her husband had abandoned her and her mother was taking care of their two children. The woman had convinced herself that they would all be better off if she were dead, so she went to the hardware store and bought a hose with which to direct her car’s exhaust into the car.

She explained to Angela that her last stop that day six weeks earlier was the church – to say goodbye to God. She went in and sat alone in a rear pew. Then, to her surprise, Angela turned and smiled at her. The woman realized then that she was not completely alone – Angela cared about her, and so, perhaps, did God. She abandoned her plans and waited for the right time to share her story.

Angela was stunned and so was I. It was as if God were emphasizing the point – Angela really was living out the vocation that God had given her – there was no higher call. And so we have discovered.

We have served the Lord together in churches in Darien, Connecticut; Lafayette, Louisiana; New York City; and Fairfax, Virginia. I have been privileged to serve as a missionary bishop from Nigeria across America and around the world. But I have always known that Angela and Rachel are at the heart of the ministry. We have a family vocation, and as we have served, God has met all of our needs in abundance.

God has a call on each of our lives – for some it is the high calling of being a mother or a father with the privilege of discipling children. For others it is the calling to work in business or in the medical, legal, educational, or other professions. Some are called to serve in the military or as farmers, tradesmen, bicycle repairers, gardeners, or builders – today a growing number serve in that increasingly diverse world of information technology. And in the future, I expect that more and more people who serve in the traditional ordained ministries of the church will do so as multiple-vocational pastors. I call them MVPs!

As the apostle Paul reminds us, we are the body of Christ and individually members of it. We bring our various gifts and vocations to the community so that the whole body might be strengthened. I encourage you to reread 1 Corinthians 12 and reflect on Paul’s reminder to all of us in public ministry that the less -visible parts need to be accorded greater honor.

To God be the Glory!

Your brother in Christ,