What Would *You* Say?

This morning, I picked up two slugs on my way to work. For those not from northern Virginia, “slugging” is the practice whereby a driver (me) picks up two volunteers from a designated place and thereby forms a carpool that can use the carpool lanes in rush hour. There are longstanding rules to slugging: the driver controls the radio station, no money ever changes hands, no smoking or eating…and, the slugs do not talk, out of respect for the fact that this could be the driver’s one and only quiet time of the day.

This morning’s slugs broke the last rule–and it didn’t bother me. Here’s what happened. They clearly knew each other, as they were discussing their weekends before we really ever got out of the parking lot. The man had been to a garden center over the weekend for season-clearance plants, and the woman expressed an interest in doing that…but then allowed as how this might not be the year to do that, as she’s beginning the process of getting divorced and will be moving.

The rest of the drive was spent with the two of them talking about her situation. Evidently there’s a pre-teen child involved, and a trial separation has been underway, and whether her child would need counseling, and her need to find new friends. It didn’t sound like any significant degree of abuse was taking place, which is a relief, but of course there is always emotional trauma in these situations. I was silent, but my heart went out to the family, especially that child. You see, I was 12 myself when my parents separated; it’s not a stretch to say the effects of that lingered another couple of decades, and affected how I related to women throughout college and into my marriage.

So what’s an Associate Pastor to do in that situation? Do I speak up and offer a word? Or maintain silence and just be in prayer for them all? Clearly, from her voice, there is pain about what’s happening; just as clearly, “it’s not my place” comes to mind. If our church had a robust divorced-persons ministry that could be a resource for her, I could have offered that–but we don’t.

What I wound up doing was, when she exited the car downtown, thanking her for coming along for the ride (as is customary), and then adding that I wished her well in her situation. But also left with a nagging feeling–was that enough? I’m supposed to bring healing into the broken; did I fall short?

What do you think?

“Who, Me?” My Debut Sermon As Pastor

This weekend marked my debut weekend leading worship at Sydenstricker UMC as its newest Associate Pastor. I was thrilled and honored to share the story of how it is I come to be in the ranks of the clergy now, and what Jesus meant in the Great Commission, with everyone at SUMC. Click here to give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Consecration and Celebration

There have been so many “firsts” and “official” moments in the last several weeks, I almost lose track. I became officially a member of the clergy of the United Methodist Church on June 20, when I was approved at the clergy session of Annual Conference. I became the “Rev. Eric Kleppinger” when I was licensed on the 21st, and then on the 22nd, when appointments were fixed, I officially became part of the clergy team at Sydenstricker UMC. I’ve had to post a bio and photo and everything, so it’s really real!

Then came this Sunday, June 30. At the 11:00 service, we had a special consecration service. First Mary was consecrated as a new Stephen Minister, to bring her gifts of caring into the lives of those in need of a little extra help. Then it was my turn.

At Sydenstricker, we haven’t had a tradition of “robing up” in full liturgical vestments, except on major holidays. But for this one, I was presented for consecration in my new robes, and our Senior Pastor, Don, was in his, along with my stepbrother, Joel, a Baptist pastor who came down from Vermont to be a part of the day.

IMG_0149
Don Jamison reads me the charge to care for the people of Sydenstricker
IMG_0166
Don and Joel lay hands on me and pray God’s blessings

All told, I think I can count about 19 people who were there just for me that day: friends, family, you name it, people who were part of my life w-a-a-a-y back in college or even before, and newer friends who have walked alongside me in these more recent journeys. My stepbrother Joel and his wife Aprile from Vermont, my uncle and aunt from Pennsylvania, a dear family friend from when I was in elementary school came from New Jersey… so many loving people. And there were Sydenstricker folk, of course, by the dozens, people who had been there for decades, and people whose lives are just now coming into our circle. I am beyond-words grateful for each person who came, whether from Vermont or Pennsylvania or Springfield. I can see each of their faces in my mind’s eye as I stand at the rail and look out. And it is a beautiful sight, one I will always cherish.

I have absolutely no idea what lies ahead of me…but God does, and he’s called me into something much mightier than I could ever have imagined. It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, it’s humbling, and it’s now a part of who I am.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all I have given you; and I will be with you, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

#letsgo.

IMG_0174
Joel, me, and Don after the service

#letsgo

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.

20190621_204246

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.

Some vignettes:

  • 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!

IMG_0256

So, This is Now A Thing…

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.

Agonizing Decisions, Part I

Nobody ever promised life would be easy. We’ve had a heckuva decision to make recently. Sarah came to us with news that an 18-year-old male friend from another Virginia city (i.e., a significant distance off) was being evicted from his apartment within days and on the verge of becoming homeless. She asked, Could he come stay with us and start to make a new life here in Northern Virginia?

Oy.

Very long story short, this is someone whom she knows far better than we do: we had met him once, last summer, and I think I spent all of four hours with him that weekend. We spent about 40 minutes on the phone with the young man to hear him out directly about his present situation. 

On the one hand, he has no car and no license. He wants to work in an industry that isn’t local to our neighborhood, so he would need a way to get to work. He’s very desirous of working, but for various reasons (not important to get into here) hasn’t kept a job more than a few months. For various reasons he hasn’t been able to go to his parents for assistance. He seems like a decent person who’s struggling to get his life started. But I really don’t know him, and how do I bring someone into my home (in the presence of my wife and 18-year-old daughter) whom I don’t really know all that well?

On the other hand: Christ has no hands and feet but ours. What good does it do to talk about Christ’s love in action, if I can’t see it through?

“I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’” Matthew 25:42-45

So what do we do? What is the proper Christian response to this?

We took counsel from many, many friends, and I cannot say any of them said, “Absolutely, you have to take him in.” Which is itself an interesting observation. I got a lot more responses along the lines of sharp, whistled intakes of breath, and caution to not do it. And to be sure, the last thing I would want is someone who takes up residence in my basement and then can never leave–not only for the impact on my family, but all the more, because it won’t have really solved the problem, only changed it and put it on my family’s back.

This becomes all the more a real question as I transition into the pastorate. I’m not aware that I’m under any obligation to take into the parsonage every homeless person who shows up at the door. But I am expected to help, and to help in ways that don’t create further harm to the person seeking help. Plus…it’s my daughter. And it’s a friend of hers.

I have agonized over this for weeks. An awful lot of my prayer life went into this topic for awhile.

So what should I have done? Let me know your thoughts…then next time I’ll share what we actually did.

Anxious: Guess We’re Doing This!

Ten days ago (yep, I’m still processing this somewhat), the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) for the Alexandria District, Virginia Annual Conference, of the United Methodist Church, formally endorsed me as a Certified Candidate for Ordination, and moreover approved me for licensing as a Local Pastor as soon as July. Yep. This year.

I had about an hour-long interview with the ~dozen or so members of the DCOM, who asked lots of questions about my fitness to lead, my understanding of the sacraments, and so forth. (Although interestingly, never asked “Why do you want to become a pastor?”) They asked about my devotional life, my self-care habits, how I developed the sermon I posted to YouTube. They also asked what kind of appointment I’d be seeking, and I told them I’m still committed to the idea of finishing my Federal service in another ~5-plus years while attending seminary part-time, so a part-time posting nearby that allows me the chance to be mentored and get my feet wet, make some mistakes and have someone there to help me understand them–that would be perfect. Later that day I had an email from the DCOM chair that I had been approved.

Part of me wanted to laugh, part of me wanted to cry, part of me said “You fools! If only you knew how unready I am for this!” And so I think the right word is “anxious.” I’m anxious in the sense of, what have I gotten myself into? How can anyone possibly think I am able to do this? But also “anxious” in the sense of, let’s get to it! Let’s go, let’s get started, I’m anxious to begin!

I still have to go to licensing school, ten days in May, but for all intents and purposes, I will become the Rev. Eric Kleppinger as of annual conference in late June. And then…the adventure begins. Part-time pastoring, plus full-time employment, plus two seminary classes a term, plus family, plus life, the universe, and everything.

For I can do all things through the one who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

Amen. And amen. Lord, you have called me to this. In you I find my strength to follow, and in you I will find my strength to do all you’ve called me to do. Let thy will be done. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Because, I guess we’re doing this!