7 Stepping Stones of Faith
Entering the room to get started on the Institute for New Church Starts and Revitalization the 12 of us who came in didn't all know each other. This isn't any real surprise, the conference consists of over 600 active clergy and this was designed to be a cross-section of sorts. Since I have done camps for as many years as I have, and been a youth worker for way longer than I like to admit, get-to-know-you games and such are of interest to me. This time the opening introduction was to gather in threes and share the things you needed to leave behind to be present with the group, followed by a time of prayer. Helpful and encouraging time.
Then we continued with time to get to know one another. We were asked to find someone we were not as familiar with (there were a couple of married couples in the room, including mine) and share the 7 stepping stones of faith from birth to current with your partner. We then took those and shared them with another pair, where at the end of the exercise you had been introduced to three other people pretty clearly.
Let me share mine with you:
1) Baptism. Though I cannot tell you the time and date of my baptism I know that it is a part of the covenant I share with God and members of the faith community. I was baptised as an infant in a Presbyterian Church and am still acutely aware of the love of God that was opened to me in new ways at that time.
2) Salvation experience. I remember being about 5 or 6 in Bishop during a VBS session and going forward for an altar call at the Nazarene Church where I gave my life to God, thanking Jesus for the sacrifice that was made for me on the cross.
3) A conversation with my dad. I don't know whether this conversation is something my dad remembers, and I don't know that it matters whether he does or not, because it serves as a reminder that we never know the moment of any relationship that may change someone else's life. Sitting in the back of the car before church I had my head bowed when Dad came out to drive us to church. He asked whether I was alright and I said I was asking Jesus into my heart again. He simply said to me that it is a onetime request that does not need to be repeated. Assurance of salvation is as great a gift as there is.
4) Camp. I have gone to camp every year of my life except 1...the year we moved from Arcadia to Bishop. Camp has shaped me both as a camper and as a counselor/dean.
5) Youth Group and College Ministries. I think I covered about as many of the campus ministry opportunities at Emory as possible, with the exception of 2, which was congruent with my High School experience where I went to three different youth groups in three different denominations in one stretch of High School. The varieties of Christian faith expressions are beautiful in my experience and appreciated for the various ways we can learn more about our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
6) Seminary. Never have I before or since had such an assurance that the Methodist Church was where I was supposed to serve my call to ministry. Repeatedly in seminary I found myself thinking, "Wow! Those are the words for the things I have been thinking and couldn't quite put in a framework."
7) Marriage and new church appointment. There is nothing so formative in faith as transitions. To create a marriage and take on the responsibility of being the pastor in charge (after 5 years as the associate) in a new location in the course of two months will definitely help define the faith journey. A very powerful stepping stone in my faith/spiritual formation.
What came to me as a revelation in this process was the affirmation that once again "I am a Methodist". By this I mean that I believe that faith formation is a process. Also, to paraphrase at the height of paraphrase, I thought of Wesley's statements; "think and let think" and "in essentials unity, in all else freedom", followed by "if your heart is as my heart, take my hand". I thank God for the many who have held my hand along the process of my faith journey.
I pray you will take the time to consider your own stepping stones. The best part of any church start/revitalization is the pastor, or member, who is committed to his or her own faith. Learn about yourself by finding someone to share these with, or share them here in the comment section. I will be in prayer for you too, and think about the excitement of others joining the conversation.