Saying yes to God -- Stories of call inspire 93 at rally
The five storytellers Sept. 6 included a seminary student, a Local Pastor, an ordained Deacon, even a bishop; and their stories were personal. They spoke of God calling them to ministry. Three of their talks are condensed on this page.
The audience was attentive that day at Moore-First UMC, because many were contemplating God’s call on their lives, too. A total of 93 people attended the Call to Ministry Retreat & Rally.
Among them were a dozen youths and 30 people described as "inquiring candidates" by Chuck
Nordean, Conference director of Clergy and Congregational Development. Another 17 were enrolled in the Academy for Part-Time Local Pastors.
The Oklahoma Conference Board of Ordained Ministry designed the rally as Oklahoma embarks on group mentoring for all clergy candidates. Five such groups organized during the break-out sessions. Ten district superintendents and 24 mentors also attended.
By Erica Thomas
I was United Methodist even before I was born. My great-great grandmother joined OKC-Quayle UMC in the 1920s. My mother and father met at Quayle and were always active in the church.
In the summer of 1975, I attended district youth camp at Canyon Camp. I had an amazing experience where Jesus became very real to me. I continued to be active in church and heard a call to ministry. But I was a performer — still am — and wanted to try my hand at making a living on the stage. I felt that I would not pursue ordained ministry until later in life.
Going to college, having many experiences across the world, God has been with me every step. I always have sought out opportunities to be in Christian fellowship, as well as talk to my theater friends about their faith and mine.
During many years, God has used the talents he gave me to sing praises as well as opera and music theater. For example, I traveled to Cuba for a music ministry presentation.
In 2000, I attended a church workshop in Wichita, Kan. A preacher named Sherri Townsend gave the sermon "Walk Worthy" (Ephesians 4:1-2).
That Word convicted me, and I stopped running from this call. I began the clergy candidacy process by reading "The Christian as Minister."
Being a Deacon seemed just right for me.
I get to connect the world with the church. It is an awesome thing to see someone come into a relationship with Jesus Christ and be healed of past hurts caused by the church.
I also teach voice at a community college and meet many young adults with no church or faith experience.
I love being a Deacon, assisting in Communion and baptism, teaching Bible study, helping new Christians find their place in the Kingdom. This is a fabulous journey.
(Rev. Thomas is an ordained Deacon.)
Photo by Connie Barnett
Erica Thomas tells her call story Sept. 6.
By STEPHANIE STEPHENS
My call to ministry started at about kindergarten age. I gave my life to Christ, and shortly after that began hearing God speaking to me. As a young child, God literally called me by name.
I had the same kind of experience that Samuel had as a child when God called him.
At first, I went to my mother repeatedly, asking if she had called me, and she replied, "No!"
She finally told me to say, "Yes, Lord," and then listen for God and do what he told me.
As long as I can remember, God has been using me to provide messages for others. At first I was scared because I was so young. How would people respond? Would they believe me, take me seriously? What would I say?
God reminded me of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. I truly believe that the Almighty called me in this way because my Savior wanted me to know there was need of me at an early age.
In college I was active in the Wesley Foundation. I joined a United Methodist church’s mission trip to Mexico, and my heart was "strangely warmed." I didn’t make any decisions about ministry then. But I did visit that church in the Oklahoma City area.
Because I wasn’t United Methodist, I did some research about the denomination and the church I was visiting. It was important to this preacher’s kid to join a church where I agreed with the beliefs, felt the presence of God, and could serve and grow. I prayed and, after hearing from God, joined that church.
Then I told my parents. Later, I told them of my decision to become a preacher, with hopes of pastoring and becoming an elder in The United Methodist Church. They were supportive and happy.
In 2010, I started seminary, Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City, and in 2013 I was appointed pastor of St. Mark’s UMC in Shawnee.
I wake up every day living out my calling. You should do what you love and love what you do, and I’m happy that I’m able to do that. When you fully allow God control of your life — "Here am I; use me" — God uses you beyond what you could ever think to do.
I first heard my call as a child, but I get the privilege to respond to that call each and every day.
(Rev. Stephens is a part-time Local Pastor.)
By MIKE MAHAFFEY
My call to ministry can be described best as a "creeping call." It sneaked up on me.
I was baptized in another denomination at age 14, left church at age 16, and wandered in the wilderness for more than 20 years.
Then my two adult children became very active in a denomination unfamiliar to me. I spent three years reading everything I could get my hands on concerning theology, world religions, denominational history, and more.
All that reading led me to "how" my children joined this denomination, but did little to answer "why" they were so involved.
One night, I awoke suddenly with these words ringing in my head: It’s not about them, stupid; it’s about you. I soon began looking for a church to call home.
In my reading, John Wesley’s theology of grace spoke to me in a way that I found missing in other faith communities. My wife had grown up United Methodist; her grandfather John Dennis was a retired Elder in the Oklahoma Conference.
She and I found our way to First UMC in Muskogee, and I vowed to give God an hour a week.
But we were invited to join a Sunday School class, and my one-hour vow began to change.
Members of the class rotated as volunteer teachers. After my first turn, the sign-up list mysteriously disappeared. I taught the class for five years.
I became a certified Lay Servant and taught a weekly adult Bible Study for three years. Then encouraging words from class and church members led me to "fill the pulpit" for vacationing pastors in smaller, nearby churches.
I was blessed to serve in these ways as an active lay member and concluded, "This is enough."
But others thought there might be more awaiting me, even a call to ministry.
I said, "No way."
One Sunday found us worshipping at Kingston UMC, celebrating Rev. Dennis’ 100th birthday. Listening to the sermon, I thought it rude when someone behind me said loudly, "You will preach."
Yet no one was there when I turned around, and none of the other worshippers seemed to notice. After the service, I told John about my church involvement and the proclamation that only I heard that day.
He prayed with me, offering a double blessing for what I was doing and what he knew would be unfolding.
That day my "no way" became "maybe" and, later, with encouraging words from trusted others, "maybe" became "Yes, Lord, here I am." So I contacted my district superintendent and started the journey into clergy ministry.
However, I thought it unlikely that I would advance much. I was 50 years old at the time, with more wilderness than church experience, and confident all this was just a misunderstanding.
The Ministry Inquiry Process helped me so much as I wrestled with my call.
I found the ministry path for me was as a Licensed Local Pastor. I seemed best suited to serve small and/or rural churches — if there was a need and if I was found worthy.
This is my 15th year as a full-time Licensed Local Pastor. I chose licensed ministry for several reasons, and No. 1 is the accountability factor. Annually I submit my ministry to examination by the superintendent and District Committee on Ministry. In addition, not having security of appointment adds an intensity to my calling.
I depend on my call daily while living it out, currently serving Fairview at Slapout and Catesby. I have been blessed beyond measure after finally saying yes.