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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Clerical Conflict/Consequences: Reverend Vance

I’d heard the phone ringing as I bounded up the old wooden steps to our apartment; I wasn’t sure Curt was home. Crossing the threshold, I spotted Curt holding the telephone receiver out to me. “It’s for you.” Why was he laughing? “It’s the church secretary at the big Methodist Church in town.” My eyebrows shot up in that stare that says you’ve got to be kidding? He shook his head and the receiver at the same time. Grabbing it from his hand, I calmed my voice.

“Hello, this is Sojourner. Are you looking for me?”

“Yes, I believe I am. Reverend Vance has asked that I phone you. He said you used to be a part of the youth group in his church years ago. Do you remember Reverend Vance?”

Wow, did I remember him! He was the pastor of the church where my mother took us for Sunday School when we were little kids. He was the pastor when I asked him all kinds of questions during the confirmation classes he let me attend with my sister, though I was technically too young for confirmation. He was the pastor when I was the head of the junior high youth group, still asking him questions about God and the Bible and what we should believe. I would never forget Reverend Vance; he was one of my favorite adults of all time!

“Yes, I remember him? Is he the pastor at your church? I’d lost track of him since leaving the town where I was born.”

“Well, actually, Miss, Reverend Vance is the District Superintendent of this area. Do you know what that is?”

“Yup, that means he’s some kind of big cheese for the Methodists, doesn’t it?” I heard her stifle a laugh and clear her throat.

“Uh, well, yes; I suppose you could put it that way. Anyway, the district is holding a special conference for young people and Reverend Vance would like you to be one of the counselors. Would that be possible? I could give you the dates, if you are interested in checking your schedule.”

“Are you sure it is me he wants?” I was fairly sure Reverend Vance knew that I had chosen to worship in the Catholic Church as an adult, rather than switch back and forth with the Methodist Church. On the other hand, I would love a chance to share with him about my recent experience with the Holy Spirit. “How ‘bout we set up an appointment and I can come talk with him. I’d love to visit with him again and I’ll be sure it is really me he is wanting for the conference.”

The secretary was puzzled but agreed and set up an appointment. Shortly after the phone call I talked with the other students in my group at IVCF about the possibility of counseling at the youth conference. One of my Catholic friends offered to share the responsibilities with me, if the pastor would allow me to have another person along. That’d be great; I planned to ask.

“Come in, come in. I’m so glad you came to see me!” Reverend Vance held out his hand, his huge smile matched by mine. I grabbed his hand but pulled his whole arm towards me for a big squeeze. I looked up to see recognition in his sparkling eyes. He’d remembered this arm-hug was my usual greeting for him. Calling for his secretary to bring some cold drinks into his office for us, Reverend Vance escorted me back through the office door.

“It’s so good to see you again! So much has happened to me in the last few years. How much time do you have?” Both of us laughed, remembering my stories could take hours, once I got started. “No, really, Reverend Vance. Actually, I asked for this appointment with you because of the invitation to be one of the counselors at your upcoming youth conference. Do you know I am only a Catholic now? I don’t think I’ve been in a Methodist Church for a couple of years, at least. Is it really me that you want for one of your conference staff?”

“Well, no, I didn’t know that you’d made your choice and we lost. However, what I do know is that you were one student most intensely interested in matters concerning the Bible and God. If you’re still that way, I do want you to be one of the folks working with the high school girls. That’s just what they need. Do you want to do it?”

“Well, let me fill you in just a bit on that one area of my life and, then, I’ll ask you if you still want me to do it.” Pastor Vance was intrigued, pushing back to settle on a relaxed pose.

For most of the next hour, I shared my own story about being born again the previous year. This was followed up by the more recent experience with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Of course, my excitement was obvious and he couldn’t help but notice. I was moving forward and back on my chair as I spoke. My hands were as animated as ever. Reverend Vance had to remind me to slow down a bit when I spoke.

“Yes, I do understand.“ Reverend Vance was responding to my question, but I quietly waited for more. “I know exactly what you mean. I, too, have a story.”

The solemn look on Reverend Vance’s face tore at my heart. It was not the joyous account mine had been. Still, I wanted to know.

“When I was in my first year at seminary, we had time alone in the chapel any time we wanted. I took advantage of the opportunity and enjoyed the quiet and peace of the little sanctuary. One morning, I was praying and had an intense longing for more of God. You know, I just wanted to know all that I could of God. It was like a hunger that just wouldn’t be satisfied. This was true, I knew that; but it was the first time such a sensation had seemed to come from within my being. I remembered looking around to see if there was anyone else in the chapel before I spoke but, seeing it was empty, I asked God to give me whatever it was I needed to know Him to the farthest limits possible. I can’t describe what I felt; but, when I opened my mouth to continue praying, I couldn’t understand the words rushing out of my mouth. It was so fascinating that I tried to understand which language I was speaking. It was, definitely, a real language by the sounds and structure of the words, but it wasn’t one I had ever heard before this time. I stayed in that chapel for as long as I could, soaking it all in and wondering what was happening to me.” He looked into my eyes and I nodded for him to continue. I’d never heard this story.

“I made it through my classes somehow but didn’t hear a word or take a single note, probably. I found a fellow first-year seminarian and told him all about it. He warned me to not mention it to a single other person and, should anyone ask him, he planned to deny that I’d told him anything like what I had just shared with him. Apparently, the rumor was that another student in this seminary had been more open about what happened to him in the chapel. He looked and looked for someone to explain it to him. In the end, he was expelled. If I really wanted to finish seminary and get my credentials to preach, I’d need to forget all about what had just happened. He also said that folks had said they believed the other student to have lost his mind and that it was the majority opinion that only crazy people would speak a language they didn’t understand. Of course, I knew that wasn’t true but, then, I was beginning to feel like my life had just spun out of control. I’d not had anything I couldn’t understand happen to me prior to this experience. So, now I listen to you and I wonder… what would have happened to me if I’d found someone who believed me and wanted to help me understand it? I can see your enthusiasm and I remember what I felt for just a short time.”

“But, it’s not too late, Reverend Vance! It’s never too late. You can still ask God to forgive you for denying the Gift and He’ll give it back to you; I’m sure He will. Let’s ask Him right now.” I grabbed onto the hand nearest mine but he only gave it a squeeze and pulled it back to clasp the other hand.

“No, it’s too late. I’ll retire in a few more years. It’s too late now. Fear is a mighty powerful motivator, you know. The threat of losing my retirement pension, fear of being removed from my position in disgrace… I just can’t do it. It’s too late.”

I was so stunned and sad over my friend’s story. I had no idea and I suspect few people, if anyone else, had ever heard this story. Yes, in fact, he did still want me to be one of the counselors and yes, I could even bring my friend to assist me. He trusted me.

I want to let you know that not every Methodist seminary is like this one. Not every pastor in that denomination has had such an experience. I have a lot of Methodist friends who have experienced the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and dearly love the Lord. Please, don’t take this one example and generalize it to all seminaries for all time. Even this one seminary may not still hold this view. My point in sharing this story was only to make you aware that your own pastor may have had a similar experience but hasn’t shared it with you out of fear. His story also bears witness to the love of a marvelous Heavenly Father who looked down at the heart of a young man, praying alone in a chapel, and answered the cry of his heart. What is done with God’s answer depends on the one who receives, of course; but we can be in a position to encourage those who share their heart with us. Let’s focus on encouraging sharing, even if we don’t always understand. Search out the answers for yourself before just discounting anything you don’t understand. Be assured that God does want you to understand and will help you find His answers!

*Reverend’s name has been changed.

For the stories on my experience of being born again and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, check out these posts:

**** After the Conference… Next Post

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