Waypoints: Plotting a course toward calling Launching
The pursuit of calling is like charting and navigating a course on the sea. My hometown is on the Great South Bay on the south shore of Suffolk County, New York. There are some trips that are memorized and sunk into my memory. For example our regular trip to Barrett Beach, piloting a course of 185 degrees from the mouth of Homan’s Creek will take you straight to where you need to be. Charting a course from my hometown boat ramp on Homan’s Creek to other desirable locations, such as the Sore Thumb, Moriches Inlet or even the Statue of Liberty require more advanced planning and tools to accomplish the journey. On a boat, one of the most important tools is a well-programmed GPS. The GPS is programmed with waypoints, which tell the pilot which direction to steer the boat. Following these waypoints (often fixed on the channel side of buoys) leads the ship towards its ultimate destination. The pursuit of the Christian call is much like this journey. Trusting in the vectors provided by the Holy Spirit, the Christian pursuing his (in my case) call, sets sail on a course designed for them to follow to be at certain necessary waypoints that were created for them. Leading them arrive at a final destination that is often beyond the ship’s horizon. While the story of my call is still underway, I can describe the waypoints that I have passed through and discuss some of the lessons that I have learned in my acculturation and unique calling into the profession of youth ministry.
Launching and Dockside – First Baptist Church of Patchogue, Bayport, NY
Operating a boat and the Christian journey are similar. It is essential to be well equipped before you set out to sea. Considering seaworthiness of the ship and crew, having enough oil in the engine, gas in the tank, a working radio and emergency supplies are all important to safely navigate in open waters. My dockside preparation was done growing up in my home church, the First Baptist Church of Patchogue. This church was the only one I knew from birth through moving away to go to college 18 years later.
A major structural element of my life is my birth story. I was born with a bi-lateral cleft lip and palate and required over 21 operations to ameliorate this condition. While this may not be an outwardly spiritual thing, my experiences growing up looking different from the rest of the students, spending time out of school to get operated on and the recovery time left me both wounded socially and also exposed me to the Christian culture at my church where my mother was a custodian. My life experiences have kept me out of trouble and also have shown me much about the levels of human depravity in my peers and it helped me develop a keen ability to discern people and their motives rather quickly.
AWANA was (and hopefully will continue to be) a major part of my development into a Christian. It was after an AWANA meeting that I was saved on May 17, 1984. On May 16, 1993 I was baptized at an evening service at my church. These two dates I view as important dates where I came to an increasing knowledge in Jesus Christ and through the teachers, mentors, leaders around me, I discovered Christ’s love for me and started my view of ministry as part of life (not just a vocation).
My mother was a church custodian and having many operations, I would be in and about church when I was out of school to recuperate from surgeries, which socialized me into the “behind the curtains” transpirings of the church. I was able to read in the pastor’s study or an adjoining office, stuff bulletins, answer some phones, and also clean with my mother throughout the church. The practical part of cleaning the entire church is that you rock at manhunt in the dark when your youth group plays it in the church. This involvement in church fostered a sense of stewardship towards the church and kindled my administrative leanings and skills. I witnessed good and bad exemplars of communication, giving sufficient organizational lead-time and accountability within the church. My father is a perennial church deacon and headed up a very large building expansion. Observing his involvement in church helped me gain a better appreciation of church politics (the intersection of people and power), organizational flow and leadership.
Junior and Senior High Youth group were influential in my acculturation into the church and spiritual development. I had a couple of leaders Mr. Pete and Mr. Jim who were very influential and developed the vision in me to see church as more than a stoic exercise in ‘long suffering,’ but also as a place to live, fellowship and grow into who we were called to be. Not to be overtly cliché, but the aspects of ministry that I learned from them was living life and the being part of Christianity.
I was introduced to being in ministry and serving at a young age. Participatory ministry began for me in Junior High School where I was allowed to volunteer in toddler nursery during church service. Eventually, I also served in Kindergarten ministry and Jr. Church as I advanced in grades. In high school I also volunteered as an AWANA LIT (leader in training), which pretty much meant we did the same things as all the leaders, plus most of the things the leaders didn’t want to do. This taught me servant leadership and helped me later in life just do the jobs that need to be done and not waste my time whining about it.
Having grown as I could in my hometown, launching into college life brought me to a very strategic decision. After much internal debate, I chose to pursue elementary education from a secular school. I chose to go to a secular school to ensure that I owned and integrated my faith. So, with my 87 Chevy Caprice loaded, I set sail towards waypoint 1- Cortland, NY. To no small degree, I would get what I asked for at Cortland State.