Calling – Time to Get Smart

Today is Part III in my series on calling.  If you missed the first two you can catch up by reading  Part I and Part II.

By application time for seminary, I had my heart set on attending Duke Divinity School, was highly considering Wesley Theological Seminary, and applied to Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now named Union Presbyterian Seminary). In thinking about each school I thought Duke would provide the academically rigorous environment that I was looking for in a master’s program. In digging deeper about each school, I believed Wesley would provide the social justice minded environment I was looking for in a program. In wrapping up my evaluations on all three schools, I thought Union would be a descent compromise, but not the place for me.

As I kept praying about where I was called to go and writing all the essays that the application process required, I began to have a change of heart. I began to question whether or not Duke would be the right place for me, especially if it was going to cost me $100,000 in tuition, books, room and board. I began to question if Union wasn’t so bad after all. They did require that their M.Div. students take both Biblical Greek and Hebrew prior to taking New and Old Testament. I began to wonder if Wesley was the right place if they didn’t require their M.Div. students to take Biblical Greek and Hebrew prior to taking Old and New Testament courses. After all this praying, wondering, and questioning, I knew where I was called to go.

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I realized despite my own desire to run the other way, God was calling me to attend Union Presbyterian Seminary. I’m so glad I didn’t follow my desire to run the other way of my calling and listened, because Union was truly the right place for me. This was the academically rigorous environment I was looking for in school. This was the social justice minded group that I needed. This was the place that I needed to grow in ways I didn’t know that I could. I was reminded in this whole process of how stubborn I can be, that there is always more to the plan than I realize, and that God really wants what is best for us. I’m thankful I wasn’t stubborn, because the time I spent (and still spend) at Union and the relationships I formed nurture me today.

During my first semester of seminary I realized that getting ordained in the United Methodist Church was not for me. I spent time learning more about different denominations, visiting churches AGAIN, and finally found my new church home. By January of 2007 I began regularly attending Three Chopt Presbyterian Church (TCPC), joined in May of that year, and soon began the ordination process for the PCUSA. The summer I joined TCPC, I became the youth director there as well. In this role, I had the opportunity to professionally do what I had done as a volunteer for so long. I had the privilege of working with many great middle and high schoolers, great volunteers, and under a wonderful head of staff. Through my work at TCPC I grew a lot, was challenged in various ways, dealt with difficult people, nurtured young people through their tough and joyous times, and realized that I was doing what I was called to do.

Three years of seminary came and went very fast. During that time I made great friends, learned from excellent professors, grew a deeper love for languages (as if that was possible), and was ready for life to work in the church. By the fall after graduation, I came to the realization that I could no longer continue making my part-time work at TCPC. I -really need a full-time job to support myself, my career, and continue growing professionally. So began the process of juggling my current job, applying and interviewing for new positions, and discerning where was it I should go. By November of that year, I had to say goodbye to a group of people I loved working with, prepare for a new job, became engaged, and many decisions to make.

Check back next week for more!

Calling – Finding my home of faith

Today is Part II in my series on calling.  If you missed last week’s post, check it out here

Now, where were we…I took the plunge and visited D’s church. I was really skeptical about going, but I’m so glad that I did! I quickly learned that there were a couple people I knew from school there, and many other people that I was eager to get to know and they me. This was nothing like the sunday school experience at my dad’s church, or the Japanese church that my mom and I ran from over the summer.  

Over the fall semester of my Junior year of high school I began attending D’s church regularly, and by November I signed up for my first youth retreat. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as this whole experience was really new to me. Yes, I had gone to church with family and friends growing up, but being a part of a church and going away on a trip with my church was another story. Thankfully some great folks in my youth group took me under their wings, I met some great people at the retreat, and my heart was opened in more ways to the grace and love of God. 

Over the next two years I became very involved at the church, developed friendships that remain today, and came to love and adore our youth pastors, our children’s ministers, our pastor, and our pastor’s wife.  To this day these individuals mean the world to me, and have helped me to be who I am today. By the start of college, I remember our youth pastor asking D, S, and I to lead a girls’ Bible study for our youth group. At first we all thought he was crazy for asking, but he was clearly on to something. Our youth group was growing, it had more girls than boys, and the girls needed the support of young ladies older than them. I personally didn’t think I was equipped to be a part of this leadership team, but yet again he knew what he was talking about. My faith grew through doing this, I was forced to study the Bible extra, learned a lot, and continue enjoying doing things just like this to this day. 

Through college I remained involved at my church. I got baptized my junior of college, though I’m not sure what took me so long. I guess accepting being a member of the local church and church universal was something I didn’t take lightly.  During college I also became very invovled in one of the campus ministries at VCU. Through this ministry, I was given the experience to lead more small groups, and grow deeper in my faith. It was also during this time that I also began to learn about my Japanese great-grandmother’s Christian faith.  The story of her and her faith is for another day, but she is a woman who is a guide for me.  At yet another retreat, big things happened in my life.  During my fourth year of college (I took the five year path due to classes) that I accepted the call to go to seminary. I wasn’t sure all that this “yes” would have in store for me, but I knew the first step was to say “yes God”. 

Deciding where to go to seminary wasn’t as hard as I expected, but I definitely didn’t go where I thought I would. My pastor went to Duke and encouraged me to consider going there. Everyone else on staff (or previously on staff) at my church went to Union Theological Seminary, whether it was to get their Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in Christian Edcuation. My dad also encouraged me to consider Union, because we had family that studied there as well. In typical Crystal fashion, I didn’t think Union would be the place for me, but I think it was due to the fact that that this was where the most people wanted me to go. Along this journey, I’ve also learned that God sure has a funny way of taking you places that you least expect.

Check back next week to see read what unfolds next…

    Calling: We All Have to Start Somewhere

Today begins a multi-week series about calling, my own to be specific, and I thank you for taking the journey with me. For each of us, faith is different even when it seems the same. My faith journey has had its twists and turns and continues to take me places I never expected. 

I am very thankful for how my parents raised me in that I was  able to experience two different faith traditions. My mom’s family was Buddhist (Nichiren Shoshu to be exact) and my dad’s Christian (United Methodist specifically). Neither parent ever forced me to attend worship services with them, but provided the opportunity if I so chose. I almost always went with them, and progressively chose the faith that was for me. 

  

Through the later part of elementary school, middle school and the first part of high school
, I would consider myself to be devoted to Buddhism. I would regluarly attend Kosen Rufu Gongyo with my mom if she was attending or I would go with another member of my family. If I were invited throughout this time to attend church with family and friends, I would still go, but it was definitely with some reservation. In seventh grade life science I recall being required to dissect a frog and refused to do it, due to my faith. Perhaps it was the middle school girl in me using it as an opportunity to not have to do what made me sick to my stomach, buuuuuuuuut that frog could be a reincarnated loved one.😉

By high school I began to question things more about my faith. I saw how terrible things would happen in the life of my family, friends, and myself and wondered why it would happen. When I would ask those in my life that were Buddhist, I consistently received the response that it was their karma or my own and that I should chant about it. So chant I did, and didn’t see much result. I also felt that it seemed kind of lonely being Buddhist. There was some vague universal understanding, but it didn’t seem that intimate. I began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, there was something to this whole God thing. I began to pray. Sometimes I’d see a change. Things didn’t always seem to have such negative outcomes. And things no longer seemed so lonely.

I had a good friend named D that I met in middle school.  She always knew I was Buddhist, and although a Christian herself, she never judged me for my faith. She and I had some classes together, but one particular class provided us more time to chitchat near the end of sophomore year. I’d ask her questions about the Bible, God, what the big deal was with this whole Jesus character…and she’d kindly answer and guide me through my doubt. She always responded in a way that really resonated with me. As the school year wrapped up and we moved into summer, I began visiting churches. I checked out a Catholic Church with one set of friends and thought it was nice. I knew my great grandmother would LOVE my attending a Catholic Church (she was Irish Catholic), but I wasn’t sure this particular congregration was for me. I visited a United Methodist Church with my dad and stepmom, and thought it was nice enough, but wasn’t impressed with their high school Sunday School. I also visited a Baptist Church that had a Japanese congregation with my mom, but we never made it to the service. A lady from the American congregation was so rude to my mom we turned and left (story for another day). I began to wonder if I’d ever find a church that was right for me.  

When school started back in the fall of my junior year of high school, I shared with D about my church “shopping” adventures. She immediately said she was sorry I’d had a less than stellar experience and invited me to her church.  Here’s the thing…she attended a Korean-American church. I questioned whether or not the service would be in English, she said that they had a service geared towards high school and college students that was ONLY in English.  I gave it some thought for a few weeks and finally decided to give it a chance. It didn’t take long for me this congregation to take me in as part of their church family.

Check back in next Friday to hear read more…