Spiritual Autobiography and Ministerial Identity
I was raised in a moderate Baptist congregation, Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. After a conversation with my family, I made a profession of faith at age seven and was baptized a few months later. My ministerial training began early in this nurturing and loving community that encouraged me to be an active participant in Bible study, worship planning and leadership, church committees, and local and global service. When I experienced a calling to ministry before my senior year of college, ministers and church members responded with joy and affirmation. They continued to love me and support me through my educational journey and graciously ordained me on July 14, 2002 following my graduation from divinity school. Central Baptist gave me the great gift of facilitating my vocational journey and teaching me the value of collaborative ministry. While attending Wake Forest University Divinity School from 1999–2002, I developed a love of and facility for academic study of the Bible, which led me to further studies that culminated in my earning a Ph.D. in Biblical Interpretation from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in May of 2016. For the past several years I have been living in Syracuse, NY where my spouse is pursuing his own Ph.D. in Religion. From the time I entered divinity school until the present, I have been living out my ministerial calling through both professional and volunteer ministry opportunities. In September of 2017, I began an interim pastorate at West Baptist Church in Oswego, NY. During this time I have discovered a great love for and a specific calling to pastoral ministry.
I understand my vocational identity in terms of a dual commitment to the church and the academy, though my ministerial identity has always been primary. I intentionally pursued my Ph.D. in a divinity school surrounded by professors and students who also shared these parallel commitments. My own spiritual formation has always been spurred through the creative synthesis of engagement in faith community and life in the classroom.
I believe in God, the Creator who breathed life into human beings in order to build a deep, abiding relationship with us. I believe that God is active in history and is constantly working to bring new life into being, particularly in places where it seems that all hope is lost. I believe that God’s ways are not coercive, but rather, God uses persuasive power to draw humanity in. We have free will and God waits for us to respond. God’s love for humanity is so great that God continues to wait on us, even though we fall short over and over again. Our task is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Creator (see Micah 6:8).
I believe in Jesus, the incarnate son of God who shows us what it is to embody radical divine love. Christians are disciples who relate to God through Jesus, pray in his name, and interpret scripture in light of his example. Jesus shows us the way towards being the people God knows we can be. Even if we fall short, we still strive towards the Christ-like ideal. Jesus calls us back to God’s deepest desire for us, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matt 22:37–38).
I believe that the stories of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are redemptive. In the resurrection God testifies to who Jesus is and to how divine power works. Human sin puts Jesus to death on the cross, but God responds by saying that ultimately death cannot and will not prevail. The crucifixion and resurrection bear witness to the fact that all humans experience pain, betrayal, and abandonment, but God never, ever leaves us that way.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy gift that descends when Jesus ascends to God. The Holy Spirit is the enlivening divine presence within Christian community. While Jesus was on earth, the divine walked among us. After he ascended, Jesus’ disciples became the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit makes possible the transformative power of faith lived out in Christian community. The Holy Spirit sustains us, comforts us, and enables us to live out our divinely given callings both individually and collectively.
I believe in the Bible, the great narrative of God’s relationship with humanity, which teaches us the purpose of our creation and shapes who we are as people of faith. The Bible conveys identity and directs our actions by communicating the formative (Who are we?) and normative (What should we do?) values of spiritual lives and practice. The Bible shows us over and over again that God chooses the most unlikely people to fulfill divine purposes. Those who are willing to take risks that build up the community of faith gain God’s blessing. Those who hold on to their possessions and are unwilling to share out of God’s abundance lose in this life and the next. The Bible teaches us that a life committed to love of God and neighbor may come at a high cost, but it is the key to a life worth having.
I affirm and wholeheartedly believe in the historic Baptist principles of Soul Freedom, Bible Freedom, Church Freedom, and Religious Freedom that bring Baptists together and sometimes require that we part ways. Baptists, at our best, respect individual autonomy balanced with the wisdom of local church bodies where the individual is known and loved. We believe that faith is best shared and accepted freely in a non-coercive atmosphere that demonstrates respect for all people. While some advocate that Christians need to move away from denominational affiliations, growing research shows that young Christians who are aware of the particularities of their Christian identity –– and the contributions of that identity to Christianity as a whole –– are more likely to stay engaged are less likely to drop out of church as they get older.
My understanding of Christian life and practice is that it is best lived out through individual commitment and corporate involvement. By listening and paying attention to one another as we study the Bible together, hear one another reflect, pray together, and serve together we come to recognize God’s presence in each other’s lives and help one another discern what God is calling us to do. I find great spiritual sustenance in tying my spiritual practices to the cycle of the liturgical year, which has been a vital development in my spiritual growth over the last several years. Additionally, I try to orient my life according to gratitude, taking time each day to recognize the big (family, friends, health, work that matters) and small things (fall leaves, spring flowers, sweet potatoes, local coffee, and a front porch to sit on) for which I am thankful. When I engage spiritual practices, whether walking a labyrinth, journaling, or crafting prayer books for the homebound, I make space for divine revelation in the everyday. One of my greatest joys is helping others find meaningful ways to develop spiritual practices that work for them in their lives.