As Ashley and I have been sharing with friends and relatives our plans to uproot our family and move across the country to begin our in ministry in the Dakotas, the responses have been quite varied. While many have been surprised, some (particularly those who have known me a long time) have not been surprised at all. As I’ve reflected on our journey over this Easter season, I am struck by how this story is really a resurrection story. Not just for me, but for my family as well.
I began going out to Standing Rock, ND, in 1993, at the tender, young age of 12. I was one of the two youth that my church, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, sent on that first mission trip. For more than eight years, we took a team out each summer and put on VBS for native children at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and did work projects, like building a food pantry, or helping construct buildings at St. Gabriel’s Camp.
In sharing the stories of our faith with children (not much younger than I) in a community ravaged by extreme poverty, alcoholism, suicide, and drug abuse, I learned what it meant to embody the Gospel. I believe it was there, in the eyes of those children, that I came to truly know the incarnate Christ, the Word made flesh. It was on Standing Rock that saw I first hand the transformation that can take place in the lives of children, and families, and communities, when we are willing to put the needs of others above our own. During those summers on Standing Rock, I recognized a distinct call to join God’s ongoing work of creation in the people and the world around me.
That call took me down various paths. I chased it down into the shadowy valley of politics, out into courtrooms and newsrooms, and up under the bright lights. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, my ego grew and I lost touch with the God of my youth. But God never lost touch with me. And, God never stopped reaching for me. Two summers ago, I led a youth group from Ascension back out to Standing Rock. This time, my son Hill joined me. In ways I’m only beginning to understand, that trip reconnected me to the God of my youth and His call on my life.
Over the last two years, I have come to understand that it is not enough to recognize a call if I cannot also surrender completely to that call — it has to be on God’s terms, not mine. Jesus’s words, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” took on a very fresh and personal meaning (Matt. 16:25). After nearly twenty years of avoiding it, I entered fully and deeply into discernment for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. And, quite unexpectedly, I am being led back to North Dakota, back to Standing Rock, back to the work that first opened me to the deep movement of God in my life and work.
A call multi-cultural ministry on an Indian Reservation is no light matter. Ministry on a reservation extends far beyond the cinderblock walls of reservation churches. It is a ministry that reaches into every aspect of the lives of parishioners, their families, and the members of their community, whether they attend church or not. It is a ministry that draws the Gospel out from the safety of revered institutions like seminaries and cathedrals and works out the message of Jesus in the realities of reservation life. I believe this ministry, ultimately, is one of reconciliation and healing. This Gospel message will ask me to daily recognize God’s Presence in myself and the world around me – in the ordinary as well as in the sacred – and to help others recognize and respond to that Presence in a way that fundamentally transforms the lives of individuals, families, and communities, not just for a moment in time, but forever.
As Ashley and I begin this exciting (and admittedly terrifying) journey, we hope you will join us. Your thoughts and prayers are very much appreciated, as are your commitments of financial support. Please know that your love and friendship has brought us this far, and they will see us through this journey. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.