Y’all – it’s official. Last week, I was ordained as a deacon in full connection in the United Methodist Church!
My ordination was the culmination of years of twists, turns, roadblocks and whiplash. It was the culmination of years of God beckoning me closer to God and neighbor and further from my comfort zone. It was also the culmination of my responses to God along the way – sometimes “yes,” sometimes “nah,” sometimes “okay fine.”
When I was just an eighth grader with chunky highlights and a retainer, I felt this weird yet unshakable urge to go into ministry. I was strongly convicted that I was called to devote my life to teaching in the church, but I didn’t really know what the heck that meant. I searched in scripture for my answer, but I found those troubling passages that said women couldn’t be in ministry. Thank God for my tiny sassy feminist of a Mom, who taught me that the Bible is to be taken seriously, but not always literally (shoutout to Carole, who tried to explain what a “day” could mean in Genesis 1 to kindergarten Melissa, who was trying to figure out where to place dinosaurs in the biblical timeline).
In high school, I sought out leadership opportunities in my youth group. I was in the praise band and did the whole “accountability partner” thing, and I even signed that True Love Waits contract before I knew what that even meant. But one day in my senior year of high school, I said a four letter word at school.
And my youth pastor asked me to leave.
You know how, like, everyone is talking about their faith deconstruction right now? This was mine. I hated church, I hated church people, and I hated the God I had come to understand as the Christian God. And of course, this was perfect timing – right as I headed to Ouachita Baptist University to major in Christian ministry.
When the metaphorical foundation cracks and crumbles, you can either walk away or you can rebuild.
I asked questions. I challenged. I read authors I wasn’t “supposed” to read. I broke lots of rules and got into some trouble. But I also sought God outside the church building. And I found a God bigger and more beautiful than I had known before.
I took Greek and Life of Christ and Biblical Studies classes, and I unlearned a lot of rubbish I’d picked up along the way that had been masquerading as Christianity. And I also remembered how it felt to be shunned from church. I knew this wasn’t right, and I remembered my call to ministry.
Baptist classes helped me realize just how Methodist I really am. Actually, it was a Baptist professor who told me that if John Wesley was still alive, he’d totally be a Methodist. So I went back to my roots for seminary, and I enrolled in Perkins School of Theology at SMU. My plan was to become a professor, so I earned a Master of Theological Studies, and my passion for biblical studies grew even more. My last year, I applied for PhD programs, took the GRE, and studied under a PhD candidate at Perkins. I wrote a paper and submitted it for grading, and here’s the feedback I got:
Melissa, this paper isn’t PhD material.
But – could I share it with one of my congregants who’s going through a difficult time? I think this could really encourage her.
And then I received four rejection letters to four different schools.
But I was also teaching a fifth grade Sunday School class. And I was somehow able to explain things I was learning in seminary to these 10 year olds…and they got it. Maybe God wasn’t calling me to the academy; maybe God was calling me back to the church.
Six days after I graduated seminary, I got married. And two weeks later, my husband was appointed to a church in western Kansas as the associate pastor.
Master’s degree. New last name. Move to a different state. No job.
Cabin fever is a real thing, y’all.
So I started doing research for other pastors’ sermons. And I worked part-time at a jewelry store. Then – something opened up.
I became the Christian Education Director at the church, where I developed benchmark goals for our children’s ministry, provided research for adult book studies, and helped develop youth-age appropriate curriculum. I was given the opportunity to develop our Vacation Bible School curriculum one year from scratch, and I consistently helped plan the small group material for youth and young adults. I also taught the Confirmation Sunday School class and wrote a blog in addition to the provided children’s curriculum to equip volunteer teachers with the background information necessary in order to answer the “why” questions that children are bound to ask.
I was back in church. And this time, it felt right.
Two years later, Bill was appointed to eastern Kansas, so we packed up our apartment and made the trek across the prairie. I accepted a position as Director of Children’s Ministry, and my duties grew to include Congregational Care and Discipleship for all ages. I had the opportunity to write and consult and create more resources, and I just knew – this is my calling.
Two years later, another move. We’re now in eastern Nebraska, where Bill and I co-pastor a church. I am still writing and consulting and creating content. And a little one is on the way in September! God is good and beautiful and surprising and terrifying. Sometimes I didn’t want to say yes. Sometimes I said yes too quickly. But the one thing I’ve learned, is that when I do say yes to God – I learn just a little bit more about God’s heart for humanity and yes, even for me.
When I said yes back in eighth grade, I had no idea what that meant.
But maybe that’s the point.