On any uncertain journey, especially for a young, inexperienced traveler, guides and signposts are essential aids provided by those who have made that journey before. And of equal value perhaps is the company of fellow travelers.
Thirteen teenagers considering a call to ministry benefited from both advantages at a one-day retreat in Lebanon, Pa., on Saturday, March 15. There they learned much about the life-journey that follows when one says “Yes” to that divine call.
The teens, all from churches in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, gathered at Kochenderfer UMC to hear insights, testimonies and advice from ministers in different arenas who heard and responded to the beckoning of the Holy Spirit to be set apart in service to God. They heard about awareness and questioning, initial resistance, eventual acceptance and the often dramatic detours in career paths that occur when one who chooses becomes one who is chosen.
“My call to ministry was a series of God-moments in my young life where God was nudging and I was questioning sometimes, ignoring sometimes and saying ‘No, please pick someone else’ at other times,” Bishop Peggy Johnson recounted to the youth. “The persistent love of God wooing me to accept the call is the hallmark of many call stories. It certainly was true for me.”
The diverse gathering of young people were registered mostly from Northwest District churches, which is why this year’s YES Call to Ministry Retreat was relocated there. (YES stands for “Yield to the Call, Embrace the Call, Stay with the Call.”) Seven of the 13 youth were from Nuevo Nacimiento (New Birth) UMC in Lebanon. The others were from Church of the Good Shepherd in Lebanon, Ono, West Lawn and Lickdale.
“They explored the meaning of the call, discovered the variety of ministry possibilities and were challenged to follow the call through intentional faithfulness to their membership vows,” reported the Rev. Gary Nicholson, Superintendent of the Northwest District and co-organizer of the event.
In addition to learning of Bishop Johnson’s vocational trek—from schoolteacher to deaf ministry pastor to the episcopacy—they also met Aaron Smith, a young youth pastor; Deacon Lisa Stine, a discipleship coordinator at Church of the Good Shepherd; Elder John Wheatley, a military chaplain; Josh Shuster, a local pastor; and the Rev. Sunil Balasundaram, whose ministry journey brought him from India all the way to the EPA Conference. Nicholson and the Rev. Matthew Heckman, host pastor of Kochenderfer UMC, also shared their call testimonies.
“They were able to walk through the Bible and read how God called people into service for Him,” reported Aaron Smith, youth pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and a student at Valley Forge Christian College. “It was important for these youth to realize that God never calls people in the same way. The students were also able to meet different people in different ministries and learn the vital fact that ministry is not just about being a pastor.”
While studying Civil Engineering in school, Smith said, “it was a major shift when I felt called to change majors and directions. I was tired of people telling me to go into ministry because my father was a pastor; so I opposed this new call at first. Then one day as I sat at my desk doing both ministry work and my current job, I felt God interact deeply within my soul and point me toward my work for the ministry. He spoke to my spirit and told me He wanted me doing that full time.
“The next day,” Smith continued, “I changed majors, changed schools and moved. Ever since then, I am brought to tears by the feeling that I am living the major piece of my life as God intended.
“There is a crucial need for our local churches to be a resource for those having a call to pursue ministry,” he added.
Notwithstanding all the testimonies, Smith recalled, what the youth seemed to find most valuable was “to be able to meet and get to know other students thinking about ministry and to start relationships in which they will know they are not alone going into the ministry field.”
The teens played ice-breaker games to become better acquainted and basketball during their breaks. The day closed with Communion and prayer at the altar, “reminding us,” Smith said “that we are all part of the Body of Jesus Christ called to different areas to make that his mission happen.”
By John Coleman, EPA Communications Director
Gary Nicholson Photo