Methodist Bishop Edwin Voight sponsored a Convocation on the Ministry at First Methodist Church in Springfield, Illinois, in 1961. The aim was to inform and recruit young men for the ministry; no women attended. My pastor, Glen Sims, aware that I had completed the God and Country Award in Scouting and was serving as a de facto chaplain for the local Boy Scout troop on our monthly outings, thought that I might be interested and shared the invitation to attend. Families of the Springfield churches generously provided accommodations and hospitality.
Fifteen years old, I was the youngest in attendance. Most were older high school or college students. I knew I was out of my league. The program consisted of young adults and older ministers recounting their calls to ministry and their formative years in ministry, as well as prayers and worship around the theme of vocation. Their stories were impressive and elaborate, though fifty-five years later I cannot remember a single one of them.
What I do remember was my inadequacy and youth in the face of the experiences shared. The personal experience that I had to share, when in small groups we were asked to share our own stories, was the fact that I walked regularly four blocks to my home church, after school when I had to stay for some extra-curricular activity, in order to use the church telephone to call home. Then, while waiting for my mother or father to pick me up, I would stand in front of the impressive stained glass window or the great Last Supper carving and pray, while I waited twenty to thirty minutes for a ride (Our home was five miles away.). During those times I came to think of the church as my second home. I prayed about my future and how I could use the talents that people around me told me that I had, though I wasn’t at all sure.
When I had finished recounting ‘my calling’ in this way, the group leader noted appropriately that not everyone had a call to the ministry, which I took as a direct response to my story. That stung a little. Later in the gathering, the call of Moses, who was not an effective speaker at the time, and Jeremiah, who was just a boy at the time, gave me a little courage to think that I might yet be in the right place. I was not convinced, but the thought was effectively planted.