From Exile to Hope: God's Calling. Again.

From Exile to Hope: God's Calling. Again.

June 15, 2023

God’s Calling. Again.

By: Lee Roorda Schott

At our recently completed annual conference, we heard a lot of words about calling. Our worship services had us say, for instance: “We reaffirm…our common call to ministry.” Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai said to us, “Listen all believers! Listen for your call!” 
Do we know what it means to be called? If you’re a layperson, do you describe yourself that way? “Called”? You might think this is a thing that clergy have experienced. I wonder if you use this language to describe your own experience. “Called!” 
The Church uses that language for all of us, clergy and lay. As Bishop Kennetha said in our final worship at annual conference, “Dear laity, God calls all Christians to minister wherever Christ would have them serve and witness.”
How would you describe God’s call to you? Where has Christ asked you to serve and witness?
All of us United Methodist clergy who have walked all or part of the road of certification, licensing, schooling, commissioning, and ordination—we’ve become accustomed to sharing our “call story” with many people in numerous venues. We’ve explained how we came to offer ourselves for ministry. What led us here. How God spoke to us. 
My call story (the short version) goes like this: God got hold of me in the midst of a legal career when I started praying at the age of nearly forty. Then after months of asking what I was to do with this, I heard God say “yes” to full-time ministry, a few days before Christmas 2001. Eighteen months later, twenty years ago this month, I left my job for a half-time student pastor appointment and the start of what would be a four-year commute down to Kansas City for seminary.
This was the story behind my answer to the first question of ordination: “Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of ordained or licensed ministry?” I do so believe. I did then, and I still do.
But it’s so not the whole story of the way God has called me. I turned sixty this spring, which has been an occasion for thinking and remembering and sifting a lot of life experiences. And the more I think about this question of call, the more I think, “Which one?
There was, yes, that evening in a Christmas-lit sanctuary that got me to change careers, that anchors my formal call story. But there was also that Lenten “aha” three years later when I saw, for the first time, the reality of human suffering  in a way that somehow changed me and my ministry from that moment. There was the call to serve Women at the Well, our Iowa women’s prison congregation, first voiced as a question by the outgoing pastor Arnette and then repeated—repeatedly—by my friend Cindy and then confirmed in a dream, long before the bishop and cabinet caught up. There was that vision God gave me, of a church that knows how to welcome people we’re inclined to overlook, that became a call to lead a conference in 2015 and to write a book two years later.[1] There was even a call to leave the prison, that ministry I had loved, to see what practicing Foolish Church looks like outside the razor wire. 
So that, just taking my story as an example, “call” looks something like

calltoministry calltojustice calltoprison calltofoolishness calltopractice

And even that is incomplete! Because there are so many other, often smaller chunks along the way, when I was led to work on specific priorities, at particular moments, for a season or for years at a stretch. So:

calltoministry mission trips calltojustice hunger music calltoprison criminal justice mental health calltofoolishness contemplative prayer calltopractice antiracism spiritual deepening community organizing sabbath

And as soon as I name all of that, I notice how truncated it feels. What about the nearly 40 years before I perceived that call to ministry in 2001? After all, where I started is how God calls all of us. Looking even further back, some early “calls” in the first half of my life included:

music agitation helping candystriper youth group music church leadership advocacy toward reconciling hands-on mission visioning praise band Disciple Bible worship leading

All of those things fit before the heavy-sounding “call to ministry” I started with. They contributed to it. Made it possible, in some ways. I wouldn’t have used the word “call” to describe most of those things but, looking back, I can see:  

music agitation helping candystriper youth group music church leadership advocacy toward reconciling hands-on mission visioning praise band Disciple Bible worship leading calltoministry mission tripscalltojustice hunger music calltoprison criminal justice mental health calltofoolishness contemplative prayer calltopractice antiracism spiritual deepening community organizing sabbath

Whew! There have been a lot of calls.
I’ve spent a lot of time here talking about myself, but I mean for you to take a similar jaunt through your own life. Call happens to all of us. Again. And again. And when you think you know what your life is going to look like, as if God is done with you, and you are done figuring things out, God calls again.
We will get pulled repeatedly out of our comfort zone, into places we didn’t think we’d go. And along the way there is joy. Challenge, yes! But there’s nothing like the joy of knowing you’re serving in the places God has for you. No wonder our baptismal vows include the promise to “serve as Christ’s representative in the world.”[2]We get to do that! 
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to think back over your story. Whether you’re 16 or 60 or 96, you have a history of God calling you. Go ahead: name it that way. God has been at work, opening doors, calling out to you, interrupting your plans, asking questions that only you can answer. As you notice the pattern and sequence of the ways God has called you, take a minute to pray and listen: God, how are you calling me Right Now? You might be surprised! 
In my experience, we’re almost always surprised. And blessed. And, ultimately, grateful.
I’ll close with a poem—Called—that a friend forwarded to me this week. True words for that call we’re not sure we’re ready for. And still, radiance can be ours, friends.

Yes, you,
unsuspecting, unprepared, unqualified,
you are called.
The call is not about your powers or skills.
The call is to be the one you are created to be,
with all the gifts of the Spirit you’ll need to do that.
The call is to follow Jesus
in whatever unexpected way he turns up in your life,
to bring your weakness and your not knowing into his friendship,
to hand over your gifts without knowing how he may use them.
The call is to walk with him,
to hold the space while he does his miracles.
He needs you.  Just keep him company.
Stay close enough to his light that you yourself are radiant. 
                                    - Steve Garnaas-Holmes, on Unfolding Light[3]


[1] Lee Roorda Schott, Foolish Church: Messy, Raw, Real and Making Room (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2019). Available thru Amazonor through the author (!). (And yes, this is a slightly self-serving footnote that you are free to disregard.)
[2] United Methodist Hymnal (1989), 34, paragraph 6.
[3] You can find an audio recording and an archive of other poems, and you can subscribe for daily e-mails with his weekday reflections at Garnaas-Holmes’ website,


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