One of the great joys of a pastor is when personal passions meet ministry opportunities. This happens for me in a number of areas here at CLC. The ability to contribute to the music ministry along with Michelle, Maggie, and Nick always brings a smile to my face. The opportunity to preach and preside in worship, to help facilitate interactions between God and those in attendance, fills my heart each week.
Campus ministry, though, gives me perhaps the most excitement. The blessings I received from campus pastors and professors while in college inspired me to bring the same kind of presence to college students throughout my time as a pastor. So far, we've approached this through Highlander Lutherans via small groups, retreats, and inclusion in the worship life of CLC.
A new opportunity arose in the past month. I've accepted an offer to join the Adjunct Faculty at New River Community College to teach religion courses, beginning with an online course in world religions this spring. It's hard to describe the joy I feel at this opportunity, but here's my best effort.
The most difficult part of my own vocational discernment (which is a theological way of saying deciding what God was calling me to do with my life) arose as I felt a deep call to the ministry of the church and the ministry of the academy. More simply, I felt drawn both to serve as a pastor and to pursue a doctorate and become a professor. With the advice of mentors and friends, I decided to pursue ordination right after my time at Duke Divinity School and hoped that I'd one day return to the academy.
Yet, every step along the ordination process brought academic service to the church into the conversation, not at the exclusion of pastoral roles, but alongside them. To paraphrase one mentor, the role of a pastor is Christian formation, and education in the classroom provides a profound opportunity for growth in the image of God.
Because I wanted to foster this potential future (Michelle would tell you because I'm a glutton for punishment), I began to pursue other opportunities to stay in touch with the academic community. I completed a second, research-based master's degree while finishing my required coursework for Lutheran ordination. As soon as I graduated, I began to write book reviews for Currents in Theology and Mission, an academic journal meant for pastors and practical theologians. I began to rewrite my thesis and explore the potential for publication.
Once Highlander Lutherans began to take off here in Radford, a number of people connected to Christ Lutheran asked about opportunities for service at New River Community College. NRCC's campuses bookend Radford, with one on our west in Dublin and one to the east in Christiansburg. Since our church sits right in between these campuses, it seemed that the Holy Spirit might call us to some kind of impact on the students, faculty, and staff of NRCC. An email to Graham Mitchell, who oversees religion courses at NRCC, opened us to this opportunity for further engagement.
This both connects CLC with the work of education in our community as well as enables me to further exercise a passion that's grown in me for years. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to work with the people of CLC, their deep desire to positively impact the New River Valley, and this new chance to partner with other organizations to benefit Southwest Virginia.