• My Candidacy Application Essay
  • Brett's Discernment

    For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and . . . and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

    So this is me . . . My Candidacy Essay

    So I am finally "done" with my candidacy essay, for real, after a few people have read it. I'm posting it here. Feel free to comment or add advice, but as with anything else on here, it's also more posted for me to have a central place for all my discernment related thoughts.
    Yay I'm done w/this first step . . .

    I am proud, excited, and exhilarated, to begin this journey with Christ and the faith community toward my call in ordained ministry that Christ has been pursuing me for. God has consistently put people in my life from a relatively young age to consider the call to ministry. Kairos was the first place where I was specifically encouraged to consider and pursue the ministry, by adult leaders and pastors alike. Although I may not remember their specific words now, their encouragement has always been a part of Christ’s work in the back of my mind. In college I worked on my degree in Latin and secondary education, but all the while my faith grew stronger and I felt a longing through prayer and activities to be working for the church full-time. I was encouraged and informed of the possibilities of a church vocation in Williamsburg largely by Pastor Ballentine, but also by several others who by the grace of God, were nurturing (and insistent) on my place in ministry. My adopted parents in Williamsburg, Jean and (retired Pastor) Al Kuhn gave me a loving environment in my new church home and discussed with me the idea of being fulfilled in one’s faith in the vocation that is right for him or her. My Sunday School co-teacher and colleagues constantly encouraged me to think of the ministry full-time, and gave me another avenue for joy in working with people in Christ’s church.

    My time after college, teaching, has brought me to a new understanding of what a “call” from Christ to vocation truly is. I have enjoyed my time teaching, and I feel that I have been effective in both teaching Latin and loving my students in a Christian sense. Teaching and the time in growth, prayer, and discernment, has taught me that my call is not a matter of what I would “prefer,” to do, it is not an escape from the negative aspects of teaching, or even what I may be best at doing. Instead, my call is a true intervention of Christ in my life – and an appreciation that while teaching may be the Christian call of some, it is not my ultimate call. God has put people in my life and taught me through prayer and study that vocation in the church is the next step in my journey.

    I feel strongly that Christ calls me toward a vocation as an ordained pastor in a congregation. He has gifted me with a variety of strengths which are well-suited for ministry. I am comfortable and passionate in public speaking, something which I have developed over the years. Recently my faith has made this a strength more specifically in being comfortable in talking about my faith publicly, praying with others, and leading a group in a Christian community. I believe I am also gifted as a Christian leader, someone who can bring the Spirit into any situation and still make people feel comfortable. I am a careful and sympathetic listener, and someone who at my relatively young age has a variety of experience working with people in difficult life situations. Another strength that I bring to the ministry is my constant introspection and learning which make me want to strive to improve my ministry to others, to learn more. I also consider it a strength that I value and come in with knowledge of the culture of the New Testament world, through coursework on early Christianity from a relatively unbiased Classical Studies perspective, and a working knowledge of ancient Greek. Overall, I would say that my most essential gift and strength to the ministry is the undying passion I have for getting Christ into the lives of others, and the lengths to which I will go for others.
    My weaknesses and concerns regarding the ministry are slowly being strengthened as my faith and relationship with Christ grows closer. One weakness is that while I am biblically literate in a general sense, I strive to learn more and be able to more specifically learn and memorize key verses and references, a task which I am particularly working on this summer; I look forward in growing leaps and bounds in the coming year and also in my seminary studies. Another weakness I sometimes display is my perfectionist nature which can sometimes carry over into my competitiveness – although God seems to humble me right at the perfect times to remind me of my weakness and inability to do anything without Him. I am a little concerned as I have in the past had a slight trepidation of hospitals, but I am realizing now how much of an honor it is to be there with someone who is sick, pray with them and help them in their pain, and with that faith, my fear is subsiding. Furthermore, while I would not consider my youth (as I will be 24 upon entry to seminary) a weakness, as it brings energy and passion, I acknowledge it as way that I have a lot more to learn and live.

    My family and upbringing shapes a large part of who I am. My parents raised my younger brother and me in a warm, nurturing way. My mother stayed home with my brother and me - my family and childhood valued such things as reading, church, respect, nature, modesty, and hard work. My entire extended family is Roman Catholic; just before I was born my parents decided to leave the Catholic church and become Lutheran. Church involvement and attendance has always been important to my family, and there was always expressed a strong ethical code. Much of my faith was nourished growing up through a strong Sunday School program at Messiah Lutheran. My parents taught me about God’s love through their love for me more than speaking specifically about the faith in the home. I believe many families work like this, that although they may never miss a Sunday, be active in the church community, and be good, humane people in general, that there is not an open conversation about faith, and hence less likely to have a daily conversation with or about God. One of the things I am most proud of in recent years is my role in our family moving past that and becoming a little more open about our faith. Two years ago my father asked me to pick out a study bible for him for Christmas, and I was so excited to do so. I purchased it for him and since then he and I have worked through most of the key parts of the bible, and he regularly calls to ask me questions, which can become a whole family discussion. My brother is now 20 and studies at the University of Virginia, my father has retired in the past year, and my mother continues to work; my parents are two of my best friends.

    Growing up in a rural area also greatly shaped who I am. I spent more time outside learning about nature, farming, animals, and our orchard, than in front of the television (which would be on PBS if anything). As a child my mother took me to the library almost daily during the summer, and I read voraciously, on my own, and during designated “reading hour” each night when no television was allowed. This upbringing developed in me individuality and a love of learning and asking questions, a love for God’s creation (which would later translate into my outdoor ministry work), and strong family relationships which are at the core of who I am.
    My current life situation is centered on being completely dedicated to my call and being open to the church’s need to put me where I will serve best. I am single, and unafraid to move to pursue my call. I am healthy in most every way, by the grace of God. I will be starting my second year of teaching next fall, and a teacher’s salary is not enormous, especially in the second year. However, I have been saving as much as I can toward my future seminary career. This is possible because I do not have any student loans, car payments, or debt of any kind. I am financially independent and working on saving money, and should I need it, I am prepared to take on loans. I feel that my calling to the church and my relationship with God is the utmost priority in my life, especially as a single person. Therefore, although I will admit that it is a scary prospect at times, Christ gives me the strength to be open to whatever call, wherever in ministry He leads me to. This coming year I am confident that I will be able to give enough time to prepare through the candidacy process. I consider myself someone excited to be a lifelong learner, and my time at the College of William and Mary prepared me well to be a student again in seminary, equipped by the Spirit with the faith to keep my studies Christ-centered.

    My faith life grew in little steps on my own through secular activities, but it was people, events, and organizations in the ELCA which have really pushed my faith those extra steps, in that I have grown into the strong faith I am happy to have. Those ELCA organizations that so affected me are: Virginia Synod youth events, the Lutheran Student Association at William and Mary, and Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp (CFLC). I grew up with a faith that I accepted and didn’t question or make my own until I was in late high school. At that time I was very active doing debate competitively – and for that I read a lot of philosophy and learned about many different belief systems. I found that although I enjoyed learning about these theories and could assimilate many into my Christian perspective, that I didn’t get the same visceral response, a pull (toward Christ), that I felt in reading and learning about the gospel. It was then, over those couple years, that I really started to listen, to discuss, and to read about my faith, to develop it further, to learn what the Lutheran church believes. Through prayer and my personal walk with God, I realized slowly that by realizing whose I am, Christ’s, who I am would follow naturally. The youth events of the Virginia Synod pushed me to go deeper with Christ, to make it a part of my everyday life. I loved discussing faith and hearing the stories of others, and at several events, this is where I was first told to and discussed the idea of considering the ministry.

    The most formative pieces of my faith walk changed me in ways that I am forever different – and brought me face to face with Christ and taught me how to incorporate him into my everyday life. Even before I left for college at William and Mary, I received a handwritten note from a member of the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), telling me about the loving, fun, and home-like community which was there for me when I got to school. When I got to Williamsburg, I went to St. Stephen Church my first Sunday there, and I was hooked. The family that was there for me at St. Stephen and especially within LSA is like nothing I have ever experienced. As members of LSA we were so close, and so accepting of each other. We had members who were from every walk of college life, and many different faith backgrounds, but we became a family to each other, and held each other accountable in our faith. The “College Room” at St. Stephen was always open, 24/7, and we all used it as a hideaway, where we could always find friends and acceptance. LSA helped reinforce my faith, which carried me through college and all the stumbles that would be put in my way. The older members of the LSA served as role models on growing into who one is and keep that identity Christ-centered.

    Head and shoulders above all other people who helped me in grow in my faith is Pastor Andy Ballentine, who advised LSA and is the pastor of St. Stephen in Williamsburg. He was always there every day with an open door and a listening ear, and always put back on me the idea of “where is Christ in this?” even if he didn’t have to say it. The most important lesson that he taught me is that it is important to slow down, and “be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37). He taught us all that among the studying, drama, and competition of college life, it is vital that we stop to relax, be happy, and take quiet time, and not worry about our cares for a little while. In my junior and senior years of college I was president of the LSA, and grew in my relationship with Christ as a leader, with my own little mini “flock” – trying to gain new members, relating genuinely to current members, creating programs, and learning that above all, things will work best if the organization is kept Christ-centered. Being the leader of the group also made my relationship with Pastor Ballentine closer and I learned from him about some of the day-to-day activities of a pastor, and talked to him a great deal about my sense of call, as he was and is a constant advocate for me and helped me ask myself questions and discussed with me the variety of options available in ordained ministry.

    The third and most formative event in my faith journey is the two summers (2004 and 2005) that I spent working at Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. In my first summer, as a counselor, I was pushed to my very limit, physically, emotionally, and in patience. But Christ would never fail me, nor did my ability to communicate Christ to my campers and never give up or feel discouraged, as long as I kept myself centered on Christ and took my time every day in prayer and reading to reconnect with that personal relationship. That first summer I had campers whose experiences I could and will never relate to, but Christ gave me the strength to speak with them on their level, to relate to others with honesty, be genuine in who I am, and just love those around me, not matter how hard the circumstances. I later had the opportunity to speak about how I relate to the gospel in my everyday life at the 2005 LARC conference and in a sermon at St. Stephen, and these experiences are what strengthened my faith to speak about my faith and also the material about times which the gospel had come to life for me.

    My second summer (2005) at Caroline Furnace I served as counselor coordinator, like a summer program director position. In this role I not only had to relate to campers on the whole, but also train, manage, guide, and supervise a staff of approximately 20 people who came from very diverse faith and cultural backgrounds. I had to rely on my faith to steer me and grow in terms of managerial skills, organization, public speaking, and leadership in general. This situation taught me that in my everyday actions I needed to rely on my faith and where Christ is in the situation, as opposed to my own ego and desires. I feel that as a leader it is often such a genuine challenge to check the ego at the door, but my experiences with LSA and as counselor coordinator at CFLC humbled me and brought my faith to a new level, that now I truly know the value of Jesus’ words in “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) These words are now the cornerstone of my faith. All of these experiences have brought me to my faith statement: My Christian faith gives me the strength to take on challenges, humbles me daily in the knowledge that only by our Savior am I saved and am not worthy of his gift of grace, and makes me exuberantly joyous to tell others about my faith. My faith is an inseparable part of my identity, and the defining characteristic which I hope to bring to the world. My relationship with God understood through the trinity, is the most important relationship of my life, and I am excited to begin my work toward a vocation in ordained ministry in the ELCA.

    yay. a.m.e.n.

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