Dear friends, it has been a tremendous journey for me these past few months. I have had some unique traveling companions and mentors as I have come to hear and understand from God that it is about time for me to be leaving the parish. Or to put it another way, I am stepping away from my staff position in the church where I have served the last 5 1/2 years.
This past week, we made the announcement and shared with family, friends, and colleagues. Some of the conversations were filled with tears and sadness, whilst others were quite different – more factual. It is hard to believe that we stand in this position – on the brink of perhaps the biggest transition of my career and vocational calling in life. While some people feel a degree of suddenness, for my wife and I, this has been a journey that has been bathed in prayer and accompanied by affirmation after affirmation from God. In our scripture readings, in our conversations, in our prayers, in sleeplessness, in rest and quietness. Along the way, God brought many people into this process of hearing and understanding, many of them from ancient times and places. I would like to share some of my journey with you.
Leaving the Parish: Voices in the Night
Perhaps my first ancient mentor in understanding this transition came from the life-story of Samuel, the prophet. When Samuel was young (I Sam. 3), he was sleeping in the tabernacle of the Lord – close to the ark of the covenant – Samuel awoke to hear his name being called. He wasn’t familiar with the voice of the Lord so he ran to Eli – this happened 4 different times before Eli instructed Samuel to simply respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
For me, I have heard a gentle calling in the night – and learning from Samuel, I began to ask the Lord to speak – about the vocational calling and direction that he has upon my life and to help me interpret some of what I was sensing and feeling around my role at the church. The Lord heard my prayer (and my wife’s). And God began to give me several traveling companions – people who have been in my situation, people who have experienced pain and brokenness, people that have been called out. They shared their experiences, they shared their wisdom, they reflect back to me what I ought to be hearing and questions I ought to be asking.
The story of Samuel ends with the Lord giving Samuel a hard word – and it becomes the impetus for Samuel to be seen by a people as “God’s man.” Samuel doesn’t shirk from the duty of delivering his first prophetic word to Eli and God and Samuel begin the beautiful, scandalous journey together.
Leaving the Parish: Getting Out of the Boat
A friend of mine asked, this week, “How did you know it was time to leave?” And I shared that another account in the Bible has had tremendous impact and continues to gain traction as I reflect on this transition is the story of Peter stepping out of the boat and onto the waters to walk with Jesus (Matthew 14). Contextually, John the Baptist had just been murdered, Jesus was trying to get a solitary place to pray but then ends up feeding 5 thousand hungry souls and again looks for a place to pray away from the demands and pressures of ministry. The disciples were in a boat going to the other side of the lake and the text reads – the disciples were in trouble…Jesus walks out upon the waters but they freak out thinking it’s a ghost. Jesus tells them to be calm and Peter says, “Lord, if it’s really you, then call me out to walk on the waters with you.” Jesus, says, “Come…”
The direction of my wife and my prayers had been “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” The prayer soon became, “Lord, if it really is you, then call me out to walk on the waters with you.” Wednesday, April 22, 2015 – we distinctly heard Jesus say, “Come…”
Now, you can imagine – anytime you step out of a boat you take a risk. I am not sure if Peter was in a sane part of his mind. Ancient Near East didn’t have life preservers back in the day. And no matter what kind of trouble the disciples were in, the boat must have felt safer and more secure underneath than the wind and waves.
I joke with friends, “I am going to ask Peter – did he jump over the side? Did he firmly grasp the side and stick a toe in to see if the water would support his weight? How did it happen for Peter?” The cool thing is that Peter started walking – I can’t say how far he got and if you know the story he sinks when he gets distracted by the winds and waves and relents to fear.
The direction of our prayers, today is, “Lord, help us get out of the boat.”
Leaving the Parish: Where Are You Going?
Many people have asked me, “Where are you going?” Perhaps, the expectation would be that I would start a church or go to a different church. Some have wondered if I would go back into healthcare chaplaincy. Others have asked about CrossTraining and the chaplaincy to the Colorado Rapids and Major League Soccer and the other areas of the professional soccer community.
Several friends have encouraged me to consider, “What is right in front of you?” And truthfully, the burden and passion of my heart has been to serve this community of people that I have been attached to for over 17 years of my professional life – the majority of those as a chaplain. This, this is what is in front of me.
But this ground is not solid – it is more watery and uncertain – much like Peter walking out upon the waters. There is no money in sports chaplaincy. There is a difficult edge of understanding for people, even in Christendom, to accept and support the work in this arena. And yet, what we are hearing is Jesus saying, “Come…”
Leaving the Parish: CrossTraining or Bust?
A couple of weeks ago, a player approached me after a pre-game prayer time. “Rev, is there anyway that we can do more, have more…of this?” A post-training Bible study, or time together – some of the things I have been wanting to do, but haven’t had the time for. It was akin to the man of Macedonia who appeared to Paul in a vision (Acts 16:9) and said, “Come, and help us.”
The player’s request echoed the words of a player who, many years ago, was asked by CrossTraining board advisors, “What do you need more of from Brad, from CrossTraining?” His simple answer was, “More.” More of Brad, more of his time – we need help and support.
And so, friend, if you have persevered to read through and journey with me – then you will hopefully understand that we are leaving the parish and stepping out of a boat which (for us) has been a safe and seemingly reliable place. We have felt called out upon the waters to walk with Jesus. Would you please pray for us in this endeavor?
Rev. Brad Kenney