Growing up, I had a really good church experience. I wasn’t in one of those ultra-conservative, dogmatic churches. I didn’t have family that pushed religion on me. I came to a lot of Christianity with the help of both church and family—but in a way that was mine.
So I liked church. I mean…really liked church. It was the center of much of my life and the place I met some of my closest friends. It was the place that provided a solid foundation for my faith, where I learned that—contrary to popular opinion—women could be (and were) ordained, not only as deacons but also as ministers, where everyone knew my name (a la Norm from Cheers).
Let me be clear. This church was not without its issues. But it did the work of the Kingdom in spite of those issues. And I’m thankful.
When I went to college, I joined the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus and learned about summer missions opportunities. My first summer as a college student, I worked as a Youth Corps worker (read: summer youth minister) for a small-ish church in a rural part of the state. Once again, it was a really good experience. The pastor was great—as a pastor, supervisor, mentor and friend. He and the church trusted me with their children and youth and allowed me to try just about anything. The work I was doing—and I myself—were supported by these wonderful folks. And I confirmed my call to youth ministry that summer.
A few years later, I had the opportunity to work at a much larger church as a volunteer with a fantastic group of youth led by one of my favorite youth ministers ever. I followed that year up with being the intern for the summer—and once again loved the work I did and the people with whom I did it. Once again, the church was not without its issues. But it worked.
And so I went off, at the end of that summer, to divinity school—and a trajectory that led to working in church. I was excited about the opportunity to provide ways to lay a solid foundation to teenagers—especially as they moved from a concrete way of thinking to a more abstract way of thinking and reasoning. I wanted to help them learn about the world around them—its craziness, its brokenness, its pain, its beauty, its mystery. I wanted to help them engage that world in a way that was meaningful and authentic for them and who each of them was as a child of God. And I wanted all of us to have a little fun along the way.