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God's call comes in different ways, clergy tell young people

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Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

The Crossroads United Methodist Church Praise and Worship team from Jacksonville, Fla., opens the worship service.
Nov. 30, 2006

By Vicki Brown*

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (UMNS) -- Ordained clergy told their personal stories of answering God's call to 525 young people attending EXPLORATION 2006.

The event, sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, invites young people to explore whether God is calling them to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

More than 300 high school seniors and young adults from 42 states stepped forward Nov. 18 to pray with elders, deacons, local pastors, chaplains, and campus ministers in a commitment service. At the end of the night, 198 youth and young adults signed commitment cards indicating their definite interest in ordained ministry.

"It's New Year's Eve at Times Square for the United Methodist Church," said the Rev. Peggy Johnson, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Baltimore. Johnson, one of two American Sign Language interpreters, said EXPLORATION is about the future of the church and she would not miss it. "I would crawl on glass across England to be here."

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, welcomed young people to the Nov. 17-19 event, telling them they are already considered leaders in the church.

"You are here to struggle with the idea that you might someday speak for God. You are here to dive in and make waves as you endeavor to discern, 'What is my path? What am I to do with my life?'" Del Pino said.

The Rev. Telley Gadson spoke of hearing God's call as a teenager. "But I was going to law school. I advised God of my plan to preach during the weekend and be a lawyer during the week," she said. "God laughs when you tell God you have a plan."

Then, Gadson heard the late Bishop Cornelius Henderson preach at an EXPLORATION event. "It was as if God was asking me, 'Is my calling nothing to you?'" she said.

After that, Gadson said she got the "true wireless communication," the one that "takes you by hand and calls you by name."

"This wireless communication that offers the best plan -- you don't have to wait until 7 p.m. to talk for free. You've got to listen above the noise, listen above the clutter that would prevent you from hearing God. I can hear him now," said Gadson, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Sumter, S.C.

'More of a realization'

Young people attending the event, high school seniors to age 24, said hearing the stories, both in the main worship and plenary session and during workshops and small group sessions, was helpful in clarifying what God was telling them to do.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

The Rev. John Miyahara speaks of fighting his call to the ministry for nine years.
Matt Benton of Springfield, Va., was struck by how the call stories he heard never started with a single moment. "They started with background. The calls weren't really a burning bush, but more of a realization. That kind of made me start to look back at my own life."

"When they started their stories, it sounded like they were talking about me. They were active in youth group ... had spoken in church a few times. That's what I did. They felt at home in the church and were called to seek a vocation in church. When I meditate on that, I felt the same way," Benton said.

The Rev. Meg Lassiat, the board's director of student ministries, vocation, and enlistment, said people trying to discern God's call often find it is hard to meet others struggling with the same questions.

"EXPLORATION gives youth and young adults the opportunity to meet others who are listening for how God is calling and how they can respond to that call," she said.

"Knowing that there are young adults from around the country and meeting people who are willing to support young people in their discernment process is very empowering for those who want to say 'yes' to God's call," Lassiat said. "The connections made at EXPLORATION can provide strength and support throughout a young person's discernment and candidacy process."

She stressed the crucial need for young clergy in the United Methodist Church. "For youth and young adults to gather together for one purpose and for the rest of the denomination to witness these participants' commitment shows us that there is excitement in today's church and much anticipation about the next generation of deacons and elders. I look forward to seeing how these students develop over the next few years," Lassiat said.

God kept calling

The Rev. John Miyahara, an elder in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference and campus minister at United Methodist-related Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., spoke of fighting the call for nine years.

"God just kept calling," he said.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Photo by Vicki Brown, Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Young people pray together during the commitment service.
First, Miyahara told how as a child he was watching an episode of the television series "Mission Impossible" in which one of the main characters thought a room was bugged.

"I thought maybe the KGB (Soviet secret police) were bugging my room, so I wandered around tapping the walls. Then, just to make sure, I picked up a hammer and smashed a hole in that wall," Miyahara said. About that time, he realized no one had bugged the room, and his parents were not going to be happy about the hole in the wall.

"I had this leaflet from our church with Scripture that was just the right size, so I taped it over the hole. Then God used that Scripture to teach me," he said.

God called again when his grandfather told Miyahara how he wanted to become a preacher, but felt he couldn't do it because he had a family and it was during the Depression. Later, a camp counselor asked Miyahara if God might be calling him to ministry.

"It freaked me out," Miyahara said. He said he wanted to go to Stanford and make a lot of money and buy a BMW. "I finished college and applied to seminary and withdrew." Finally, he was driving down the highway one day and could resist the call no longer. "OK, God, I'll do this, but you have to do it with me," he said.

"All of our calls are different; all of our calls are important," he said. He described how his own ministry has included urban churches, military chaplaincy, and now campus ministry.

"We are making waves around the world for his kingdom," he said. "Is God calling you? What steps are you taking? Tonight we challenge you to take that call seriously, to listen. If you are called, step out on faith."

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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Board of Higher Education and Ministry