Depending upon your age, you might remember singer/songwriter, Michael Martin Murphey. His biggest hit song was titled “Wildfire”. Mr. Murphey had the unique ability to be successful with two audiences of listeners. His crossover capacity was effective in Adult Contemporary and also Country.
In 1990, Mr. Murphey re-invented himself as a singer of cowboy songs. This proved to be a wise gamble. His first album called Cowboy Songs earned gold certification for selling over 500,000 copies.
That album is one of my favorites. It is a mix of classic cowboy tunes, and newer compositions that depict the challenges of being a real cowboy—none of that Hollywood stuff.
One song “What Am I Doing Here?” — captures my feelings about a conference I’m attending.
The chorus states: “So, what am I doing here Lord? What am I doing here? There’s got be something better out there, so what am I doing here?”
Starting on Friday, January 12 and running through noon on January 13, I’m a participant in the Candidacy Summit put together by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
There are 33 of us, women and men, all age groups, with diverse backgrounds who are trying to sort out what a ministry path might look like.
For me, I’m focused on learning about the requirements for becoming a Local Licensed Pastor.
The Summit is being held at the Roslyn Retreat Center just off of River Road in western Henrico County, Virginia.
The Roslyn Center is managed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The beautiful, rolling grounds are framed by majestic trees, the Kanawha Canal and the James River, an active train track, and stunning vistas in every direction.
Check in starts at 10:30, followed by an opening worship service in the Chapel. The first session before lunch is an overview of the candidacy journey.
After lunch, a panel with expertise in each possible ministry path, conducts an informal, but informative discussion about the journey.
Once our questions are answered by the panel presenters, we move forward into three unique sessions.
All of the activities are designed to provide good information about the assorted ministry paths. But, the leadership team has also broken us down into three small groups for an assortment of activities. These are designed for us to get to know each other as candidates, but also for the leadership team to start learning a bit about us.
The first one is the River of Life: A Life Review Activity. This exercise is based upon a book by author, Joyce Ann Mercer. Sent to us before the summit, the exercise contains six reflective categories to ponder. The goal is for me to draw my own River of Life capturing a wide range of life’s experiences. Then in our small groups we share our rivers. Our small group leader, a local Methodist minister, was a patient and wise guide as we shared our stories.
Our next activity brought all of the participants back together for insights related to our StrengthFinders’ survey. Formulated by Don Clifton and now part of the Gallup Organization this survey gives a participant a snapshot of their Signature Themes.
This session was very insightful as the leader had a wealth of knowledge about the survey process. His skills were grounded in helping us understand the practical applications for what we had learned about ourselves. But more importantly, he was able to help us project how our strengths and themes might be woven into a pastoral leadership environment.
After dinner, our small group was back together. This time the focus was on The Call, and the reading and study of Luke 5:1-11.
In this exercise, the scripture reading was read aloud by assorted participants. Our leader directed us to listen carefully during each reading for a word that resonated in our minds. Then we shared our selected word and offered a rationale as to why that word was important to our discernment.
Our day of work was closed with a tranquil worship service in the Chapel. Our leaders gave us a few reminders for Saturday morning, and we dismissed for some sleep.
Before breakfast on Saturday, we were back in the Chapel for a Morning Eucharist. After breakfast, we learned about the Appointment System process followed by a session on Spiritual Growth and Self-Care.
Next, we were back with our small groups, and a very interesting exercise with a table full of photographs. Our instructions had us circling the table and studying the photographs. After several quiet minutes of study, our leader directed us to choose a photograph. Once we had selected a photograph, we were asked to share the significance of our choice in relation to our lives and the candidacy.
The packed morning had moved quickly. We were ready for the closing worship service. Once again, the thought and planning for each chapel service reflected the strength of the leaders for the Summit.
Lunch was optional. The big breakfast was still sticking to my ribs. Goodbyes and thanks were shared, and I headed home.
While I wasn’t overloaded with information, my old brain was swirling a bit. I kept coming back to the River of Life exercise. I was drawn to the stories from the people in my small group.
My attention was captured by their transparency. They held nothing back relating to the hardships of their journeys. Addiction, parents who were addicts, failed marriages, failed relationships, instability with careers, and health issues for children.
Yet, I heard from their hearts, their capacity to survive and endure, despite these extremely challenging circumstances. But without question in the scars and wounds of their living was the light and acceptance of the Lord. Each attributed their progress and fragile stability to the good Lord. Their hearts were grounded in His love.
The passion of these stories will stick with me for a long, long time, and their openness will make me more carefully examine my call and discernment.
So, like that cowboy out on the range, I continue to wonder “what am I doing here Lord?” What am I doing at this Candidacy Summit?
I’m reminded of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis.
My mind keeps returning to the people in my small group.
As individuals they have wrestled with extreme life circumstances. And despite these obstacles, a restorative God has wrestled them away with his grace and love.
I think I will continue to wrestle with God about my interest in becoming a Local Licensed Pastor. That checklist of requirements is intense.
The wrangling required to make that decision will not be easy. I’m sure tangling with God isn’t supposed to be easy. But he is a willing supplier of resources—James 1:5:
“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
Clearly, I’m going to need that wisdom.