It's the beginning of the semester and I'm full sprint out of the gate, you might say. Second year at seminary, and I'm feeling secure about many things that felt insecure last year. Primarily the question "What am I even doing here?" feels a great deal more settled, because of the friendships I've made at school, because of the church relationships I've built and am building in the diocese, because of the various ministry engagements I've had this summer and will continue to have this year.
I've only recently completed my clinical hours at my summer internship at the Beaver County Jail. What an experience it has been. I found myself running from the responsibility the first part of the summer, maybe afraid that I would realize I wasn't up to the task of full-schedule pastoral ministry. It came to the point, however, where I had to decide whether my trepidation outweighed my desire to complete the internship successfully and I had to say to myself, "Do whatever it takes." That in itself was formational moment.
I began leading morning prayer with a group of inmates in the "toughest" of the housing units, including one man facing murder charges. Their response to my availability and persistence became both blessing and motivation, and I was able to grow into the notion of other men identifying me and relating to me as a pastor. I had to push through those days I didn't want to be there, to get out of bed and go represent Christ to these incarcerated men. I think I learned, in a way I hadn't fully before, how to "just do it" whether my internal psycho-emotional-spiritual composition was conducive to the task. I will continuing spending several hours a week at the jail as part of my mentored ministry class for school, but it will be a significant reduction from the number of days I was present there during July and August.
In addition the life at the jail, my other major development has been at the parish level. This past year I have been attending Church of the Ascension and have loved participating in their worship services and receiving the benefits of their Christian education program (I attended confirmation classes there and was confirmed this past May). It's a great church, and I hope to stay involved in the prayer ministry there as much as I can. But the combination of spending time with the "down and out" at the jail and several spiritual direction meetings with the rector of a homeless church in Pittsburgh lead me to wonder whether a charismatic church for the poor wouldn't be a better fit for my home parish as well as my potential ordination discernment process. So, as of the past month, Shepherd's Heart Fellowship has become my home church.
My friend Justin and I will be serving there on Friday mornings, taking turns officiating morning prayer and delivering homilies (he is serving for his mentored ministry), and attending/serving on Sunday evenings (yesterday we helped set the altar and administer the Eucharist as chalice bearers). My service there is my way of really serving the body that will more than likely sponsor me for ordination, which I am glad to do. And beyond that, I am excited to be spending my energies on ministry commitments to the poor--both the homeless and the incarcerated--because I really get life from doing it and I believe God has called me to it.
The other place I know God has called me to, prayer, prompted my volunteering to be the Middler class representative for Trinity Healing Fellowship, the campus group that organizes prayer teams for Wednesday morning Eucharist as well as a monthly healing service. I am excited to continue praying for people in this way, and I hope to, as much as I can, continue serving in prayer with the teams at Church of the Ascension, at Shepherd's Heart, and attend the House of His Presence Friday prayer meetings at Shepherd's Heart as often as my sanity and gas tank allow.
Academically, this will be a language heavy semester, as half of my classes are deal with either grammar or exegesis in the biblical languages. My other class (besides Mentored Ministry) is homiletics, a subject I am eager to learn more of since I so enjoy writing and delivering sermons as many of my friends acquainted with my tendency to pontificate could have told me.
That's my heaping plate, then: Pastoring the poor, prayer, doing language work and preaching. Maybe this adds some context to the homily I gave last week: Lord, help me not forget Jesus in all of this!!