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!
I’m in the second year of teaching a Sunday school class. We call it Navigators, and it’s for those who are perhaps newer to church, or it’s been awhile, and we cover some of the basic concepts of Christianity (but to a slightly deeper level than just a new members class).
One of the things we try to do is take advantage of opportunities to develop our “mission muscles”–to demonstrate that the grace we learn about in class has a component that leads us out into the world, to bring Christ’s love, in action, to others. One of our classmates, Bob, has elderly parents; his mom was put into hospice care last Friday, and his 90-year-old dad isn’t able to take care of stuff around the house as much anymore. And it had been a source of stress for Bob, that there was stuff nobody could get to while mom was ill.
So last Sunday, Navigators drove three hours to the southern tip of Maryland to Bob’s parents’ place, and spent the day being in service to a brother in Christ. We beat back bushes that had overgrown; we weeded and mulched the front gardens; we removed a torn awning from over the side door; we mowed, we weed-whacked, we generally did whatever Bob said needed doing.
When we were done, I have to admit, the place looked a whole lot better than when we arrived. Bob’s dad was off visiting his mom at the hospital, and so he had a wonderful surprise waiting for him when he got home. But all the more important was the lesson we all learned about going when Christ says “go.” It was a l-o-n-g drive, it rained on the way back, and we probably each had a dozen things on our own lists that we could have been doing with our Sunday. But for one brief day, our worship wasn’t in a church building. It certainly wasn’t mechanical, or uninspired. It was meaningful to us all, to be in service to Bob and his family, and it helped bring the Kingdom Among Us to a family who needed a little extra help.
I slept well that night. It was a good day to be growing as a disciple of Christ.
Had an interesting e-mail conversation among folks from church this week around the question: What is discipleship?
It’s one of those church words that gets tossed around, and for those exploring or unfamiliar with the church, it doesn’t mean anything. But even for those who are longtime members, you can get an interesting conversation going around that question. Fundamentally, it refers to being like a disciple: being like one of the original followers of Christ, who gave themselves to him and to spreading the word of God. But what does it mean?
On the one hand, discipleship can be a noun–it’s the process, the stages and steps, by which someone comes from the first inklings of curiosity about Jesus, through learning about him and what he did for us, through committing to be a follower, to growing and knowing what following Christ means, through to a mature disciple. It’s a process of spiritual growth and transformation that follows the threefold nature of grace.
Or is it? Or instead, is discipleship an adjective describing the state of being a disciple? Is it better understood as the end state on earth, the goal of the process if you will, in which grace is operating to bring us to that state?
What do you think? Should we think of discipleship as a process, or as a goal?