Defining moments

August 07, 2013

Have you ever had a moment where you just knew this is what you were meant to do? One Sunday evening in July, I was at a Unidos en Cristo gathering for men and women who had recently completed a retreat experience. It was a chance for them to gather with their table mates and celebrate what had happened that weekend.

The evening begins with a potluck meal and “meet-and-greet” time. That’s the part that is always hard for me. I do not mingle well. I have been shy since childhood . . . let me tell you sometime about my first day in first grade. I managed to find myself to a table and visit with the folks there . . . but then followed the painful hour. The retreat participants go off to connect with their table mates, and those of us on the team have an hour to wait. Many members of the team found others to visit with. Me, I found a quiet space to sit by myself and was thinking, “Why am I here?” It had been a busy week, and I would have loved to just have the evening at home.

But then came worship—and I had the privilege to offer the meditation and consecrate the elements for communion, and I was in my element. I loved being able to offer a word of hope and meaning to those who had come: to somehow speak to their hearts about God’s heart. There it was again. I am a preacher. It is who I am. It was a defining moment that reminded me what is true in my life. I get energy from being in front of people: leading, teaching, preaching—and that is where I should be because luckily God has gifted me in that area as well. I went home upbeat at the end of the night and feeling as though I had made a contribution to the world.

Look for and then seize your defining moment. That was the second piece of advice that Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center, gave Hamline University School of Law graduates in June (you may recall that I recounted another piece of his advice in my column last month). I would rephrase it this way for a church: Pay attention to what God is blessing, and go in that direction. I have been in and out of many churches, and the churches that are thriving often tell a story of a defining moment where the Holy Spirit showed up, the church realized what it was meant to do, and it went after that with all its heart. Those churches didn’t necessarily try to be all things to all people. Instead, they accepted that they were good at some things and not so much others, and they focused on what God had gifted them with and what gave them energy.

An extreme example of this is The Recovery Church in St. Paul. I remember Jo Campe, the pastor of Central Park United Methodist Church (with 30 or so in worship and an aging congregation) talking one Sunday after worship with a parishioner. They both commented that what they knew about was recovery because both were working through the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. They thought, “What if we start a worship service for those in recovery?” One worship service grew to two, then ultimately to a whole church focused on people in recovery that now has more than 300 people in worship on Sundays. 

That was one church. It can look different in different places. It can be a signature ministry, such as an outreach to single parents. It can be a focus that infuses everything, such as working for racial reconciliation. But always it is about being clear about who we are and how we are gifted, and following our passion. Who wants to spend life going through the motions? Life and ministry ought to be way more joyful than that, and when you discover your defining moment and go for it, it can change everything.

Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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