Monday, August 4, 2008

Invitation to Service (and a call story)

In spite of my upcoming move, which is coming up terrifyingly soon, I have one major event still standing between me and that undertaking: my annual pilgrimage to Invitation to Service.

Invitation to Service, as those who know a bit of my history will remember, is a three-day retreat held each year at California Lutheran University. This year will be my seventh straight year at ITS, and my fifth as a counselor. I first attended ITS the summer after my sophomore year in high school on the recommendation of the AIM (Associate in Ministry) at my home church. To understand why she suggested it to me, we must go back a little farther in my story.

When I was a sophomore in high school, a number of events came together to become my first call to ordained ministry. That fall, I was confirmed in the Lutheran church. In itself, that was not such a momentous experience; I, like many of my classmates, had suffered through confirmation classes, my parents telling me time and again that I had to go through the classes and retreats even if I didn't want to. I got through all the requirements and was prepared to be confirmed on Reformation Sunday (the last Sunday in October). I still remember my thoughts in the week leading up to that Sunday: "Uh-oh. I'm in trouble now. I didn't pay attention through all those classes, and now they're going to confirm me and make me an adult in the church. I don't know a thing!" It was then that I finally began to take my faith seriously and to realize the responsibility I was taking on by being confirmed. After that, things started to happen for me. With the new year came two big changes: I was elected to church council as the youth representative (the start of two long years of those infamous church council meetings), and I started the Education for Ministry (EfM) program. Those experiences can be left for another post; the point is, I was getting serious about the church and about my faith. Around the same time, my high school English class read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards. Our assignment was to write a response to that sermon as if we had been in the congregation hearing it preached. I don't remember now what I wrote, except that it was pretty well rooted in the Lutheran ideas of grace (something had sunk in from all those confirmation classes, after all), and that I showed it to my father. He told me he thought it was good and suggested I show it to my pastor. Now, I didn't really want to talk to my pastor about my English homework, so I typed up a copy and left it in his box. A few days later, he called my house (not an unusual occurance, as my mother was church treasurer in those days) and asked to speak to me. I vividly remember cradling the phone against my shoulder as I was doing dishes and saying, "Hello?" Without any introduction or greeting, he said, "When are you going to seminary?" I think my response was, "I'm not going to seminary!" But from that day forward, the idea was planted in my mind.

Now we can go back to Invitation to Service. As I said, the AIM at my church knew that I was thinking about ministry, so she gave me the flyer and suggested I attend the event. Invitation to Service is a retreat dedicated to helping high school youth (and others, old and young) learn about different ways to serve God and hear God's call for them. It was quite a trek, flying into LAX by myself and then getting a shuttle up to Thousand Oaks. I arrived at ITS with a question in my heart: "Am I really supposed to go to seminary? Is ministry really for me?" By the time I flew home three days later, I had the answer; it was a resounding "YES." I also had made a lot of new friends, including a guy my age named Steve. He and I exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch. Steve and I have gone back to ITS every year; this year, we might actually get a room together, since we were married this summer.

Invitation to Service is a remarkable event, led by even more remarkable people. If you don't want to take my word for it, you can watch the promotional video. It's only three days, but that time is packed with music, worship, lessons, prayer, and not a small dose of fun. The highlight of the weekend is the hike up Mount Clef (as a child of the Rockies, I'm obligated to say that it's not a mountain, it's a hill) to hear Pastor Steve Beckham's call story. I would recommend ITS to anyone thinking about ministry of any sort (music ministry, nursing, teaching, chaplaincy, etc). For me, it's a chance to refocus, to center myself in God and remember what I'm working for. By the time July ends, I'm always desperately in need of that reenergizing. This year is no exception. Even though we'll be coming back from ITS on Sunday and leaving for Gettysburg on Tuesday (terrible timing!), I'm looking forward to the event.

I probably won't post again before I get back from ITS, but I'll let you all know how it goes. Also in my next post: moving!

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