Sometimes, clergy types need outside validation of their inner calling from God to be who they are and do what they do. We are human, after all.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to lunch in Black Mountain week before last.
I’ve had numerous validations of my call since 1985, when I went off to teach school in Massachusetts, and a year later, applied to Yale and Andover-Newton for seminary.
In the face of difficulties of all sorts—work-life balance, financial strains, leaving parish ministry for a season to test my call by pursuing massage therapy certification, hitting bottom and getting sober, the end of my first marriage, falling in love again and being married a second time, starting a family and knowing they’d be subjected to the “burden” of my call, at times—AND times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and do something else with my life—somehow, God always puts these validations and affirmations into my life that my calling is REAL. And Her timing is always exquisite.
These God-placed, outside reminders prove, paradoxically, that the most important aspect of my calling to ministry is NOT from the outside, but from the reminder of what’s inside, the “love that will not let me go,” as the old hymn says.
Thankfully, I have a spouse who pays attention to that inner calling and that love, as well. And back at the end of May, as one ministry was ending and another soon to begin, she got in touch with a liturgical fiber arts business called Montreat Designs through Etsy, a social media platform for makers of all sorts of things, and commissioned a new, green stole for me for the longest season of the liturgical year: Ordinary Time, which runs from Trinity Sunday in the late spring until Reign of Christ Sunday in late November. Turns out that the owner of Montreat Designs is Susan Pierson and she lives right here in North Carolina!
And what Susan came up with after talking with Linda about my situation—serving an interim pastorate in NC and living apart from my family in CO—is magnificent (See photos)!
Now, you have to understand that my wife knows the value of planning and conspiring to bring something wonderful and loving to fruition. She got in touch with Bill and Edna Boone of The Congregational Church in Tryon, NC, where I serve as Interim Minister, and created the ruse of a Saturday drive up to Black Mountain, near Montreat, the Presbyterian retreat and conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains where Susan's parents have a cabin.
The Boones and I arrived at this beautiful mountain town in Western NC, ostensibly to have lunch, walk around a while and enjoy the shops, sites, and drive up to see Montreat, where Billy Graham also has a cabin and which has had a long association with him.
Well, we walked into The Veranda Café, put in our name, and when we were seated, this strange woman comes into the café, introduces herself and says, “I know your wife, and she wanted me to give you this.” And she hands me this stole, which has mountains (both Rockies and Blue Ridge), a stream, pine trees and my family climbing mountains on one side, and on the other, pine trees and “The Flock,” symbolic of the Tryon congregation. All hand-stitched, and absolutely beautiful.
And once again, God has found a way to touch that spot deep within me and remind me of my call, of the love that will not let me go. The stole, which a clergy person wears over their shoulders when leading worship, is symbolic of a yoke (think oxen, beasts of burden), and references Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”