Today starts a new journey for me, and I humbly ask for your prayers as I begin it.
This path goes back more than two years, to a lunch I had with our priest and my spiritual director, Fr. John Toles, from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, in Enid, Okla.
I had been visiting with Fr. John for two years already about spiritual formation. He’d led me to the writings of St. Francis de Sales, St. Josemaria Escriva and St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. I’d rekindled my love of the liturgy and the church that I first discovered in high school, and had begun serving in several capacities in the church, including on the Vestry. And, Fr. John saw something he thought might need to be developed further.
“Have you ever thought of becoming a deacon?” he asked me.
Truth was, until several weeks before this lunch, I honestly didn’t know the Episcopal Church had deacons. Sad, I know, but in years of attending Episcopal Churches, I’d never met a deacon. All I knew of deacons was what I knew from Protestant churches I’d attended, where deacons were essentially appointed church elders. But, a bout of curiosity had led me to an internet search a few weeks earlier into clergy in the Episcopal Church.
That curiosity was decades old. In high school I’d debated between going to seminary or going to the Naval Academy. My priest at the time told me if I had any doubt, to not go into ministry — that if it was a real calling, it would last. And then, in my early forties, after the loss of that career in the Navy, divorce, several moves, starting a business and generally remaking my life, I’d found my old passion for the church — and that old calling to ministry.
And there, somewhere in the world of the internet, I discovered Episcopal deacons. The notion of serving between the church and the community, of carrying Christ from the sanctuary to those in need, intrigued me. But how would I complete the seminary process? It seemed daunting, overwhelming.
But, when I confessed to Fr. John I’d been toying with the idea of the diaconate, and that I’d had a calling to ministry earlier in life, he introduced me to the School of Iona. A curriculum of the Seminary of the Southwest, Iona provides a three-year seminary process for bi-vocational priests and deacons in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, with classes on retreat weekends, one weekend a month, nine months a year for three years.
That seemed feasible. But, there still were things in my life that needed to be ordered before I undertook a path toward possible ordination. We still had two daughters at home and a business to run — oh, and a full-time job. I entered into a period of discernment with Fr. John, and deepened my involvement in the church, both within and without its walls.
I began preaching occasionally at Noon Prayers, and during Morning and Evening prayer on a couple of Sundays. My wife Tammy and I helped start a nursing home ministry that holds regular services and brings Lay Eucharistic Visitation to two nursing homes. And, I started a regular Evening Prayer service at a nearby Community Correctional Center for inmates nearing release from the Department of Corrections.
Each encounter with the nursing home residents and inmates has deepened my passion for finding and serving Christ in those in need. It has become a need for me. God forgive me, there have been times when I’ve allowed the hectic nature of everyday life to overshadow the gifts I receive in these meetings. But, He always brings me back. There is nothing that can replace or adequately explain the peace and beauty I feel when I place the real presence of Christ into the hands of someone who’s seldom visited, or explain grace to someone who’s always felt condemned by this world.
So, more than two years after that lunch, more than two years of timidly testing the water, I’ve finally jumped in. Our daughters are older, and we’ve just shut down our former business. Earlier this spring I filed my application for aspirancy to the diaconate, and was accepted. Today, I go for my first meeting with the diocese, and will begin the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to prepare for the aspirancy process.
Aspirancy will be a nine-month process, beginning in September, to learn about Holy Orders, make sure I’m suited to their pursuit, and to make sure my call is genuine. God willing, after aspirancy I would begin the seminary process, next fall, at School of Iona, on the campus of St. Crispin’s in Wewoka, Okla. After that three-year process, I would await ordination. Altogether, this will be about a five year process — seven, including my timid toe-dipping discernment.
I begin this process completely surrendered to the will of God and His Church. It is my sincere desire this process will end in my ordination. But, let God’s will be done.
I will be blogging about this journey as it proceeds. Please invite anyone at all interested in ordination, Holy Orders or the Episcopal Church to follow. God bless you all, and thank you for your prayers.