For the handful of you who might be curious as to how I ended up at seminary, here is an abbreviated version of my story:
My call to ministry was and is a slow a process. To be perfectly honest, I had no intention of working within the Church. To this day I cannot quite put my finger on a definitive moment in which I felt a “calling.” There are several moments on which I look back as turning points in my life; however, my calling is the result of a collection of events, instances, and relationships which God used to erode away my stubbornness and propel me toward ministry.
I grew up in a strong Christian home and took my faith relatively seriously for most of my life, but I never had any inclination toward vocational ministry (that is not at all to imply that you have to be in ministry in order really be serious about your faith). However, by the time I graduated from high school, I felt that I knew most everything there is to know about Christianity. Aside from the practical aspects of my sanctification (and encouraging others to be concerned with the same thing), I felt that I had more or less mastered the Faith. There was not really anything else to learn. Jesus had saved me, and I should tell others about him. Cool.
However, during college, I began to work for my school’s chaplain’s office. Additionally, I used some of my electives to take Bible and theology classes under the school’s chaplain. As a result, I acquired a new interest and passion for the study of theology that I had not experienced previously. I began to encounter the depth and mysteries of Christ, the Church, and the Christian faith in a way I had never before experienced. At the same time, I still had no desire to go into ministry, nor did I feel any particular “call” in that direction. By the time graduation rolled around, I had a vague urge to get some theological education, but I was in no hurry. Maybe after I had a successful career in the military and could study at my leisure on a nice pension. Maybe.
The two and a half years that followed my college graduation were full of many humbling experiences. Having graduated with a degree in political philosophy, my job opportunities were limited from the start. Following in the footsteps of my dad and desiring to prove something to myself, I put all my hopes into the idea of having an exciting military career. When the military rejected me for a previously existing medical condition, I was at a loss. I moved home and got a job at a local Chick-fil-A while I considered other options. Eventually, I decided to pursue law enforcement as an alternative to the military. The local police academy was administered through a community college and admitted students who were already sponsored by law enforcement agencies as well as students who paid their own way and sought employment after the fact. I fell into the latter group. Twenty weeks later, I graduated and was in the midst of the hiring process for the Orlando Police Department. After months of jumping through hoops and waiting not-so-patiently to receive a job offer, a letter arrived in the mail informing me that I had not received the position I had so earnestly coveted. I was devastated. I was almost twenty-four years old, still living in my parents’ house, working at a fast-food restaurant, and for the second time in my life, all of the effort I had put toward making something for myself had collapsed in an instant.
Over the next few months, I tried to apply to other police agencies, but I was quickly falling into an existential crisis and had no idea if I even wanted to be in law enforcement anymore. The riots in Ferguson had recently occurred, and I was not sure if I was really ready to enter this career field. Meanwhile, I was still wrestling through my theological convictions and attending several different churches of varying denominations. I was still hungry for more theological instruction, but I did not know what to do about it or even what church to attend.
In the middle of all of these disappointments, I continued to work at Chick-fil-A. My boss generously gave me a promotion and put me in charge of the evening kitchen. Because of their limited availability, many of my coworkers who were still in high school also worked the evening shift, and I often found myself to be the oldest person in the room. Over time, I became a sort of unofficial mentor for one or two of them.
One evening after we had already closed the restaurant, I sat in the parking lot with a sixteen-year-old student as he opened up to me about struggles at home and school. Eventually, he told me about a traumatic event that had occurred in his life and how overwhelmed he was with life’s difficulties and its apparent meaninglessness. I mostly listened and empathized, but I also tried to share the hope of the gospel with him and let him know that despite his feelings of futility, he was more loved by God than he could imagine. That evening, he and I talked until past one in the morning. I drove home that night feeling more full of purpose than I had in a long time.
Around the same time, I had a conversation with an Episcopal priest who served at one of the churches I had been attending. After discussing John Calvin for a few minutes, I remember expressing a desire to attend a school where I could learn from professors and pastors of all different denominations. He replied, “Have you heard of Beeson Divinity School?” That evening, I went home and looked up Beeson. I still did not feel any particular call to ministry, but it seemed as if there were multiple factors in my life funneling me in this direction. My pride had been thoroughly shattered through disappointed efforts to make a name for myself via self-serving career choices, and I was finally looking up long enough to consider that maybe the Lord had other work for me. I was discovering opportunities to minister to people at work and finding that I felt alive while doing it. Furthermore, I still had a desire to study theology, and I was not satisfied with surface-level content. Therefore, I applied to Beeson as a first step to figuring everything out.
Since then, I have been astonished by the number of doors the Lord has opened for me. When I was trying to join the military and the police force, it felt as if everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. In this case, not only was I accepted to Beeson, I also received an excellent scholarship and had a family member in Birmingham who let me stay with them for my first eight months for free.
While I do not think circumstances alone should be the metric by which we discern the will of God, the sum of all the failures, successes, closed doors, opened doors, guidance from friends and family, and personal interests all led to my decision to apply to Beeson.
And now here I am. A seminary student with a lot of room for growth, but as one who is also in awe of the grace he has been given. Please pray for me as I complete my studies.