I don’t think we’ve met, although perhaps we have. I am writing to talk with you about your future. That may seem strange, coming from someone who may not even know you, but it’s just possible that I might know you better than you realize.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Geoff Peddle and I am the Anglican Bishop for the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. I’ve been Bishop for a little over five years now and before that spent about 26 years in various parishes and ministries across the diocese. Well over half my life has been spent “in harness” as they say. I felt the tug toward this work at an early age, however, my plans then did not include the church. I was never without faith, but perhaps not clear about what I was going to do with it. That all changed in my early 20’s as I got to see more of the world and came to know myself better and so at 24, I knelt before a bishop to be ordained a deacon. It’s been quite a journey since.
I write you today because I’m wondering if you might be where I was spiritually once upon a time with recurring thoughts of a life in ordained ministry that never seemed to go away no matter how hard I tried to push them away. It was later that I learned words like “vocation” and “calling” but back then any thoughts about life in the church were somewhere between amusing and irritating. Amusing because I had my heart set on other things, and irritating because the darn feelings were always there. It’s not as if I did not have some idea of what such a life would entail, because I had a brother in the priesthood and the church was always part of my family’s life. As far back as I can remember there were clergy coming and going from my parents’ home because they were always welcome, and I suspect it was also a safe place in the midst of their parish duties. They were some of my heroes growing up and I knew them as human beings – human beings with an awesome responsibility.
I think in the end the main reason I said “Yes” to life as a priest was because I realized that I could not do anything else. Oh, I could do other things, but not really. Try as I might, I just could not imagine being anything else. Yes, I could have done other things, but I knew in my heart they would never totally fulfill me because part of my heart would always belong to God and God’s Church. It was really an exercise in imagination that led me into the priesthood. I just could not imagine doing anything else. I still can’t.
Do you feel like that sometimes? Knowing that you can do other things, perhaps quite well, but unable to totally push from your thoughts a strange attraction to a life in the church? An old professor of mine used to call it the “Hound of Heaven” and he said that once you heard that hound you could not “unhear” it.
In the years since I said “Yes” I have occasionally wondered what life would have been like had I taken a different road, but those thoughts have been fleeting and never really inspired me to do anything different. I do have many doubts about the institution of the church, and I know firsthand the pain of Christian leadership, but I also know firsthand the joy of Christian leadership. I could have made a living in many ways, I suppose, but this way I believe I made a difference.
Along the way my faith has changed somewhat. It is less black and white now and there are more shades of gray but the biggest breakthrough in my spiritual journey has been an awareness of God’s Grace and how Grace changes everything. I have met some pretty gracious people along the way and some whose lives appeared untouched by Grace. Grace has allowed me to absorb some pretty terrible things some days and other days find the courage to start over.
I don’t want to ramble about my journey, and your journey, but I want you to know that it’s okay to struggle with matters of faith and belief, and I also want you to know that you don’t struggle alone. You are not the first. You won’t be the last. And there are quite a few of us who, like you, found ourselves unexpectedly pondering what it would mean to serve God in this way. Remember that hound?
If you really feel that you can do something else with all of your heart, then that is what you should do with your life. But if you can imagine the possibility of giving your whole heart and your whole life to God through the church you should explore that more deeply. The thought probably won’t go away. Find someone to talk to about it or you can even call me. I would especially love to hear from you if you might want to spend some time here in Newfoundland and Labrador and maybe even become a priest here for a while … or forever.
And so, if anything I have written here resonates with you, ask yourself “Why?” and allow that question to echo in your heart. If it goes away, you will have an answer. But if it doesn’t, well, you might have another kind of an answer. Whatever the case, be gentle with yourself, and allow God to work in your life in a good way. To borrow from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians; May God, who began this good work in you, continue it …