This Thanksgiving Hymn was written by Rev. Dr. Richard Gibbons from First Presby...
As I discerned God’s call, I heard God’s voice very clearly. I needed to join ECO.
Responding to God’s voice
You see, ECO was a great fit for me. I am a trailblazer. I am not afraid of the unknowns of a new denomination, the growing pains of church planting, and the challenges of building from the ground up. I like the adventure of having to create new systems and modifying along the way. I was excited to be among the first round of those being ordained in this new denomination. I just didn’t realize that I would be THE first.
But here I am.
These words echo throughout scripture from the lips of women and men who God has called to pioneer new trails for God’s people. I think of Abraham and Sarah leaving everything they knew for a place God would show them. I think of Moses standing in front of the burning bush on the mountain wasteland being called to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. Samuel comes to mind as he finally recognizes it’s God’s voice he’s hearing calling out to him. Isaiah, in reply to the question, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” says, “Here I am. Send me.” Then there’s Mary at the annunciation. Here I am.
Scripture is full of accounts of regular human beings hearing God’s call. In each of these stories, they didn’t know where they were going, but they knew the God they were following was faithful. These, and so many others from scripture, are our cloud of witnesses.
We, too, wrestle with the call. We wrestle with ourselves. We often wonder how it will all work out, and if God really knows what He is doing in all of this. But we are not called to figure it all out. We are called to follow.
“So, tell me again what you’re doing…” my friend said to me as we drove to lunch on a hot summer day in California. It was our goodbye lunch. I had been accepted into the MDiv program at Princeton Seminary, and I was preparing to venture eastward. “I am getting a Masters of Divinity at Princeton Seminary,” I told her. “That’s awesome, Jenn, but you’re not going to get ordained, are you?” my well-meaning friend asked me. I will never forget my response that day.
I crinkled my nose at the very thought of ordination, and I said, “No way. That’s not why I am doing an MDiv. I just want to be a theologically educated volunteer in my church.” But in my heart I knew I couldn’t definitively answer that question. I knew I was embarking on a journey that was leading me, well, leading me somewhere. I just wasn’t sure where. I didn’t know how to explain that to my friends.
The journey of a trailblazer
My seminary admissions essays began with this quote: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” I thought I was just being witty by using a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in my application. Looking back, though, it is an accurate reflection of my life. I am the oldest child among my siblings. I grew up accustomed to being “the first.” I was the first to go to kindergarten, to get my driver’s license, to apply to college…the list of firsts go on and on. So, in some ways, being among the first people ordained in ECO was a familiar position for me to be in. I just never intended to be the first.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me how it feels. Honestly, I don’t always know how to answer this. So, the first word that often rolls out of my mouth is “crazy.” I just didn’t see it coming. I didn’t pursue it. It found me, and I cannot deny that God’s hand was in the process the whole time.
The day I received my diploma from Princeton Seminary, I had no idea that I would ever be an ordained Presbyterian minister. I was non-denominational. I was not sure that I wanted to be ordained. I knew I wanted to serve the Lord. I knew I was heading to be the youth director at Glenkirk, a Presbyterian church in Glendora, CA. But I had little idea that the journey I was on would lead me to ordination.
On the road to ordination
Not long after I arrived at Glenkirk, the conversations surrounding ordination began. After about a year of discernment, I started the ordination process. I spent six years in the process in the PC(USA). There was really no reason for me to be in that process for so long. It was just a series of little snafus that stalled my process. I stalled. Then the process stalled. Then I stalled again. I had so many conversations about the process with so many people. Nobody could figure out what kept holding it up.
Then my church began the gracious dismissal process, and I had to make a decision about what to do. Would I stay in the PC(USA) and join a new church in the presbytery, or leave with my home church for the uncharted waters of this newly formed denomination? The choice was mine.
I met with leaders from ECO and the PC(USA). I experienced love and support and prayer and encouragement from both denominations. I almost wanted one “side” or the other to be aggressive or spiteful to make my decision easier. But they were not. They assured me that they were praying for me, wanted what was best for me, and would support me in my decision either way. And they, even to this day, have kept their word.
God calls us all
I have been amazed as I have said yes to God’s call in my own life. I have the privilege of clearing a path for even more people to say yes to ordained ministry. I am a young, evangelical, female who very clearly heard God’s call. I wondered if I was even allowed to hear that call. Today I know for myself and can, without a doubt, say to others that God calls people. Women, men, young, old—God calls us.
Along the way, we may find ourselves wrestling with that call, reorienting our lives to respond to the call, and succeeding and failing as we try to faithfully follow the God who has promised to be with us. And that’s just it…God equips us for the work we are called to do. As we offer ourselves to God, saying, “Here I am,” God’s response to us is, “Yes. And here I am.”
May we always remember that we are answering the call of a living God who does not leave us to figure things out on our own, but instead wraps His arms around us, time and time again, and says to us, “Follow me.” As we answer God’s call, God continues to work on us until a work of amazing beauty is created out of our lives.
May we find strength in worshipping our God who has been with us, is with us, and will always be with us.
This portion of prayer from Augustine’s Confessions has been the prayer of my heart over the years. May it be our prayer as we continue to dream about what it means to be the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
O God, Let me know you,
for you are the God who knows me;
let me recognize you as you have recognized me.
You are the power of my soul;
come into it and make it fit for yourself,
so that you may have it and hold it
without stain or wrinkle.
Jenn Graffius is the Director of Chapel at Fuller Theological Seminary and an adjunct ministry professor at Azusa Pacific University. She has experience in church ministry and campus ministry, including five years as Director of Student Ministries at Glenkirk Church. She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (MDiv). Jenn was the first person ordained in ECO.