The path to ministry God set before me was indeed mysterious. I was raised in the Mormon church, but always felt that something wasn’t right. For the longest I assumed it was my lack of faith and sinfulness that prevented me from being able to believe the things I should. When I left home for university I stopped attending church and, though I still considered myself a Mormon, started exploring different options. At university I found I had more in common with my friends at the Wesley Foundation, Baptist Student Union, and other Christian organizations than I did with my Mormon peers. At the same time, I was also put off by the Christians on campus who would confront people on the quad and condemn them to Hell or question if they were saved (a phrase of little meaning to a Mormon).
After university I landed a job in the Netherlands working in Amsterdam. There, surrounded by secularists, I began to question what I actually believed and even if there was a God. In 2008 I moved back to the States and landed an apartment that happened to be directly next to a church. My questions of faith had come to a head at this point; either I believed in God or I did not and, if I did believe in God, I felt I needed to do something about that belief.
After much searching, I concluded that I did know that God existed; however, I was still unsure how I was to respond to this belief. If God existed, then I would have to go back to church – the Mormon church. But, how could a loving God be head of an institution that brought nothing but shame, stress, and guilt to my life? I decided that the God I knew would lead me to his will; I would put Mormon doctrine to the test, attend other churches, and see if the Holy Spirit actually affirmed that the Mormon church was the only true one.
That first Sunday at McKendree UMC I fully expected to not feel the Holy Spirit. I thought it would be my first and last Sunday at the “Great and Abominable Church of Satan” as I had been brought up to believe. The next Sunday I would don my white shirt, suck it up, and be a practicing Mormon again. Instead, I felt the Holy Spirit stronger than I had ever experienced him in my entire life.
“This can’t be right,” I thought to myself. I had to learn more. By the next week I was attending Bible study and experiencing prayers where, for the first time, I actually felt like I was talking to a loving God who listened. Two months later I was in the choir wearing “evil Catholic robes”. A month after that, I had started reading theology and learning more about all the great and wonderful things about God that I hadn’t learned as a child. In this search, I found John Wesley.
From the first moment I read John Wesley, I knew I had finally found someone who understood my struggles with faith and holiness. Through his sermons, I found other theologians, I discovered the writings of the Apostles that had been hidden from me, and, most importantly, I found the Lord and Savior who had been waiting on me with outstretched arms.
One Sunday afternoon – February 20th, 2011 to be exact – I was sitting under a tree in my normal reading spot at the Tennessee capitol building reading a Wesleyan theology book – Runyon’s The New Creation. I was reading an analysis and recounting of John Wesley’s Aldergate experience. When I read the line “an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death,” I, without thinking, asked “Am I saved?” I didn’t ask this aloud, and I wasn’t particularly asking God; I was more questioning myself. Immediately I received the answer “Yes.” I initially rejected it as simply me saying “yes”, but before that thought had even completely finished I received the answer again, “Yes, Michael, you are saved.” In that moment I knew that through the amazing love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ I was saved from my sins. There was no doubt and for the first time in my life I was freed to stop focusing inwards toward my own salvation and begin to think about how to project this amazing love to the world.
Within days of gaining an assurance of my salvation, God started prompting me to become a pastor. For a good many months I rejected the notion. I was too young a Christian. There were already enough pastors. I wasn’t good at social interactions. My excuses were numerous, but God just wouldn’t let me alone. God finally broke me down and I allowed myself to entertain his will and accepted his call to ministry.
My journey to ministry in Christ’s holy church has, as is often the case with God, been unexpected and strange. After accepting my call to ministry, I immediately enrolled at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) and started to take on ministerial roles at McKendree UMC. NTS was amazing and gave me the support I needed to realize that I could, with God’s grace, answer this call. At the prompting of Methodist leadership, I left NTS after two semesters and enrolled at Vanderbilt Divinity School (VDS). In the time between NTS and VDS God introduced me to a pastor’s kid, Jennifer, who would become my wife. As our courtship grew into engagement and I confronted my first semesters at VDS, Jennifer gave me insight into what just wasn’t right at McKendree. She encouraged me as I questioned my UMC peers and the direction the church was going. As God called me deeper and deeper into the traditions of the English church, Jennifer supported me in my journey and helped me place God’s call above my love for Methodism.
The first Sunday of Lent 2015, Jennifer and I attended Redeemer. We both experienced God’s powerful movement and knew we had found the place we needed to be. In my year at Redeemer I have found the solid foundation that supports me as I travel with only God and the communion of saints through the wilderness of Vanderbilt. I have been enriched by the liturgy as the Anglican tradition has removed Methodist fears of being too “catholic”. My ministry has grown as I can theologically embrace the entire teaching of the church; catholic, reformed, Arminian, Orthodox, etc. In the Anglican Church I have found the place God was calling me to all along.
God in his mercy has saved me from the dark, uncertain lands of my youth. He has offered me his only son, Jesus Christ, and has filled me with his Holy Spirit. The joy in my life is now totally incomprehensible to my old self. I totally and completely give my life to the everlasting, triune God of Heaven and Earth. When he calls me to minister, despite the inconvenience, struggle, and personal cost, I have no option but to answer, “I am no longer my own, but thine. […] I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.” “Here I stand, God help me, I can do no other.”