This weekend was the 237th Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Roanoke–and my first, ever–and the one at which I became, officially, the Rev. Eric Kleppinger.
When I first began pondering this path, nearly two years ago, I had absolutely zero expectation that if I found myself here, it would be this quickly. I thought, maybe in another seven years when I reach retirement age…maybe. But I have been at times blown away by how robustly God is clearing a path for me to “go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19).
So how was Conference? Lots of words come to mind. Intense: at one point I was talking about an event that happened only the day before, but it felt like d-a-y-s ago. Affirming: it felt right to be in the clergy session, it felt right to wear the white namebadge of a clergy member, and I was reaffirmed by the presence and love of so many of my licensing-school friends.
- Thursday night, the night before the licensing ceremony, I didn’t sleep well. Woke up about 2 in the morning and couldn’t fall asleep for a couple of hours. Kept having memories of various steps along this path brought to mind: Music Camp 1984, Lincolnia and the saints there who helped get me started, etc., etc. At one point I told Jesus, “I get it, you’re excited too. But c’mon, I need some sleep here!”
- One of my L-school friends drove directly to the clergy session the first morning, at which we were being officially voted in as local licensed pastors. He arrived in a T-shirt and jeans, not realizing everyone else was a little more dressed up. I gave him my sport coat, and while the fit wasn’t perfect, he could at least go on stage more comfortably. Looked pretty decent, too!
- The atmosphere among us about-to-be-licensed pastors in the tunnel under the coliseum awaiting the procession in: it felt like a high school graduation. We’re all excited, taking selfies and pictures, a knot of happy about-to-be-licensed pastors. All the other groups were politely and demurely lined up. I hope we never lose that spiritedness.
- The old poli-sci major in me got to geek out a bit at all the parliamentary procedure in the discussion of motions and voting and etc. But not so much that I wanted to engage with it, let alone go back to that world.
- I can’t emphasize enough how great it was to have been surrounded at Conference by Mary, David and Sarah, and by Don and Bonnie Jamison and Don Curry. Not only were the Jamisons able to give us tips on conference procedures and the best places to get lunch, but having them present made it special in another way. And for David and Sarah to make the trek down to stand with me…absolutely priceless. I can’t do this without all their support and love.
People kept asking me how it felt, and I have to confess, it didn’t feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s what they were expecting? It felt momentous, it felt very real, it felt affirming–but in the end, the phrase that kept coming to mind was, #letsgo. Let’s get to it, let’s get going, let’s go and make those disciples.
After we stood on stage and Bishop Weaver blessed us, we headed off and were handed our licenses and credentials as we left the stage. It truly is official now! So #letsgo!
Two weekends ago, my godson Wyatt had the opportunity, as a graduating high school senior, to deliver the sermon on Youth Sunday at his church, Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring, VA. He talked about what his church family has meant to him as he has grown in faith over his first 18 years, and I couldn’t be prouder of his remarks. I may be biased, but I think you’ll find a remarkable spiritual maturity and awareness of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Love this kid!
Give a listen and let me know what you think!
Ever notice the rhythms of life and how seasons come and go at different paces?
The spring had been a whirlwind: busy at work, to be sure, but also two classes that were very demanding in terms of the time spent each week. Then there was an Emmaus weekend to team on, and the Virginia Conference‘s Licensing School to attend, all before we bid farewell to May.
June feels different already. My two summer classes don’t feel as oppressive in terms of their demands on my time; last week I could actually sit with Mary and watch episodes of Doctor Who for the first time since January. Yeah, literally that long since I had watched anything for funsies on TV. Sad, right?
In fact, one of the classes, Life of Prayer, is pretty intentionally forcing me to take life at a different pace. One of the books we’re reading. Mark Moore’s The Rhythm of Prayer, actively refuses to be read at one sitting. It’s designed to be a forty-day course in prayer, ushering us through liturgies that slow us, calm us, and allow us to be in connection with God in different ways. And my other class, Church History 1, is doing everything it can to make life simple. We already have the first test’s essay questions available to us, so we can begin taking notes that contribute towards those. Such a difference in tone from last term!
It’s rhythms like this that reassure me of God’s sovereignty. Sure, there are seasons where we’re running flat out and our friends and family are telling us they’re worried because we’re gaining weight or don’t seem able to relax. But then they’re followed by seasons of relative repose, where we can see our way to enjoy a Doctor Who marathon, or drinks out with friends, or even an early evening sitting on the deck listening to the neighborhood kids have a water balloon fight. In those moments God is reminding us, he’s the one in charge, and if we have faith in him to see us through the crazy days, there are quieter ones he will provide for us as well. Ours is a God who truly loves to love on us, if only we join him in the rhythms he has for us.
For the last nine days of May, I and 29 of my newest friends (30 if you count the baby, Shay, who was there with her mommy) were holed up at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach for the Virginia Annual Conference‘s 2019 Licensing School. This is the annual set of classes put on by the Conference for those of us who are about to become licensed as pastors for the first time. There were eight 12-hour days that spanned over the Memorial Day weekend–no time off for that, and we came to think that was just like the jobs we’ll be stepping into.
I had been forewarned that there was a high risk of developing lifelong friendships here, and I think that’s probably a fair danger: this was a great group of Christians looking towards their first opportunity to care for others as people sent in Jesus’ name. And so we spent a lot if time covering topics we will need to know: from the more abstract, like Wesleyan theology, to the more immediately practical, like how to do a baptism or Communion correctly, to the intensely practical, like how to keep the wedding planner from taking over your church.
In fact, one of the more intensely special moments for me was when I had a chance to practice a baptism on a doll baby. Of course, it wasn’t squirming like real life will hand me, but even so, when it came time to pronounce the blessing, I was moved. And even a little bit intimidated: you mean somehow *I* am going to get to do this? That can’t be right!
We had a similar experience when we completed our practice Communion with the Hawaiian roll and grape juice: we were told to take the leftovers outside and scatter them, just as if it were real…as if we had really done it! But of course, we had, and we will…which, again, felt a little moving and intimidating.
The final night’s worship, one of the course directors said that he had met us as friends, and now he sends us forth as colleagues. That meant a lot to me: the acceptance, the trust, and the welcoming are all a part of what this past year-and-change has demonstrated. This *is* real! And it’s about to get a whole lot more real as I step into this role at Sydenstricker in just a few weeks.
I really don’t understand how it can be the end of May already. Didn’t we just have our trip to England, wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day, I thought Lent began last Wednesday…?
And was it really February that I had my DCOM meeting and got approved to become a local licensed pastor?
But in this second half of the month, the pastor train is picking up speed. Last weekend was the announcement that I would be staying at Sydenstricker UMC as their new Associate Pastor; there were actual whoops and “yay!”s from the pews when it was said. Which made me feel welcomed and supported and blessed all at once. I’m fortunate to begin my pastoral career among such people, and indeed, among people that I know and where I can grow, make my mistakes, and help move things forward in a supportive environment.
And now I write from the campus of Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach, where I and 28 others are spending nine days in Licensing School under the tutelage of leaders throughout Virginia, teaching us how to become productive, effective pastors. I’m among a group of folks who will be taking fresh the reins of two- and three-point charges in rural Virginia, mostly moving to new assignments; my friend John and I are in the minority for sure, where we are rising to be Associate Pastors at our home churches.
It’s a mix of practical advice that I’m trying to soak up, especially as they discuss smaller churches (as I will doubtless have myself someday). But it’s also vaguely intimidating still as well: I’ll be responsible for all this?? At times like this I’m grateful for the opportunity to have an in-place mentor who knows all this stuff, and worried for how well I will pick up on the subtleties and nuances of whatever charge I get next.
But in the end, as with this whole endeavor, it’s about faith. Faith that God has called me into this for a reason, that if I will only open myself to him, I can hear his voice and let him lead me into those changing scenes and different situations that I will face. So yeah, it looks like this is going to be A Thing now…let’s do this. Together, please.
I’ve shared before how my daughter–my baby girl–has struggled with anxiety around school, to the point that she tried (and didn’t) finishing school a year early. This year, we had pulled her from the public school, to let her finish out the last few classes online; that wound up not working as well as we had hoped either.
But today, Sarah completed her journey, and has now earned her credential: she passed her last tests for her GED, two of which she passed with high enough scores that she could qualify for college credits at certain institutions. She will graduate on time, with the rest of her friends, and be able to start her next journeys.
I am SO proud of her. She has struggled these last four years, and there are plenty of times I am sure she felt she would never be done. And truth be told, I know there was a lot of frustration on our end as parents, trying to do everything we could for her because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? And then coming to the realization that all we can do is love her, and pray for her, and with God’s help she will find a way. We knew her path might look very different from other paths…and that’s super OK. And so she won’t go on to college right now, or be a part of the public school graduation ceremony. But you know what? She’s exactly who, and where, she is supposed to be. And I can’t say enough how much I love her and am proud of her for pushing through and making it to today.
Her graduation ceremony is June 1, with a gaggle of her friends who are homeschooled; it winds up being the same day as if she had stayed in public schools. Some family are coming to be a part of the day, and it will be so thrilling to see our last, our baby, be done with school finally and officially, and on to whatever path God has in store for her.
Love my Sarah!
This past weekend I had the blessing to accompany the team and 19 new pilgrims to an amazing experience of God’s love in Emmaus weekend E-189. The theme for the weekend was Rescued From Ourselves, and in so many ways God helped us all achieve that goal. For instance, one brother confronted his decades-old baggage about abuse he suffered as a boy. It was a powerful and glorious experience and I was humbled to be a part of it.
On one level it was a little disappointing that only 19 (of the maximum 30) new pilgrims attended. But it started me thinking. These weekends aren’t for everybody, to be sure. I know people who aren’t ready: for whom this kind of overwhelming love wouldn’t be understood. It reminds me of the parable of the good soil:
A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! (Matthew 13:3-8)
We want to become good soil, which is ready to receive the seed and let it blossom. And so I think the challenge for us isn’t necessarily how many people we can get to the mountain, but whether we’re doing the necessary spadework to prepare them to receive the seed well: that it doesn’t get eaten or wilt or live among thorns. That would be my challenge to us ahead of next time: preparing the ground for 30–or even 19!–pilgrims who will be truly transformed.