I suppose it’s true for many people, an encounter during a pivotal time in life is a window into one’s calling. This is definitely true for me. I came to my UMC-related college as a Baptist biology major who was seeking a great education that would prepare me for Physical Therapy school and was seeking to grow in my faith. I experienced both a great biology education and took steps of faith that would have blown my high-school aged mind! My twin sister and I got involved at a local United Methodist Church, as many of our friends had grown up UM and we found a meaningful faith community there. “Randomly,” the youth pastor who remembered us from attending church asked my twin, another friend and me if we would be sponsors on a youth ski trip. From that impulsive decision—both for him to ask and for us to go—I became an intern with the youth ministry, eventually hearing and walking forward into a call to ministry. The guideposts along the way for me to walk this way in ministry were several crucial mentors who helped me understand that the thoughts, convictions, and impulses that I had were actually not just random, but they were all a part of God’s call in my life to ministry.
The first time I actually considered that God might be calling me to ministry started as a “hallway conversation” at the church. It was now after my sophomore year and I was almost done with a summer internship with the youth ministry program of the church. I remember telling Bill, the youth minister, about something that I had been working on. He said in response, “Ashlee, you’re really good at this. You have a great understanding of what is going to connect with youth spiritually. If you wanted to be a youth minister, I’m sure that a church would hire you.” I looked at him like he was crazy, I’m sure. But it planted a seed for another mentor, Martin, (who is now a colleague) who said to me after attending a really vibrant FCA meeting that I was leading on campus, “So, are you going to go to work for FCA one day?” What he didn’t know is that I was feeling a pull to do just that (which I did for two years after college). His verbal acknowledgement, also a passing comment across campus one day, fueled the desire that Bill had uncovered. Just a few short weeks later, Steve, my campus minister and religion professor, held me after class after a presentation that I made on Peter walking on water in my New Testament class, “Ashlee, have you ever considered seminary?” My first response was, “Baptist girls don’t go to seminary,” to which he replied, “Maybe you’re not Baptist.” This little interchange not only rocked my understanding of what the next steps of my future might include but it forced me to examine my theological and ecclesiological home. And now, 15 years later, I see that these mentors helped me see what others saw and gave a vocabulary to what I was I was experiencing in my own “prayer closet.” As I came to understand the voice of God, I saw that sometimes God’s voice sounded like Bill’s and Martin’s and Steve’s.
Perhaps my own experience of being called to ministry while in college is the reason that I ended up in campus ministry (at my own alma mater, even). I know the power in someone witnessing one’s gifts and then speaking that witness into being. I know what it means to wrestle with expectations (my own and those of other people), and I learned what it means to submit my plan to God. I experience grappling with theological convictions and ideas that pushed me beyond where I felt comfortable and I now love to be a witness and a voice in the lives of other young adults who may find themselves in the same place of openness to God.
It was during college that I discovered the Frederick Buechner quote that has framed much of my own understanding of vocation: “Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I discovered that my deep gladness was helping young adults see who they are in Christ and know how to respond to that understanding. It involves knowing who God is, knowing one’s own gifts, and then, in the context of community, being able to sort through opportunities to find the next step of service and ministry. For me, my deepest gladness is seeing a high school or college student become passionate about something and feeling compelled to do something about it. I’ve seen students cultivate gifts of leading worship, become passionate about prayer, and donate money that was set aside for a “fun day” on a mission trip to build a school in a cyclone-destroyed country. And I’ve even seen students walk faithfully into a call into ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. I’m hopeful and prayerful about an opportunity in November for 18-26 year olds to consider ministry in the UMC. Exploration ’13 will include speakers, worship, workshop leaders, clergy, and church leaders who can help young adults formulate questions, identify opportunities, and see what it means to walk faithfully into a call to ministry. When I went during my junior year of college, it helped me see that perhaps my plans were bigger than me. Perhaps God had a call on my life. Perhaps a church (or college) would hire me. And perhaps seminary would be a place for me to continue to grow. I’m so glad that I had people in my life who could help me understand my experiences and I seek every day to do the same for other young leaders.
Do you see gifts in another person? Do you share how God might be able to use those gifts with the world? Do you know someone 18-26 who might have the gifts to serve in ministry? I hope that you’ll be God’s voice to a young person. I’m so glad that I had three voices in my life. And I hope to be the same for many others.