The Rector of my congregation grabbed me after a Sunday service and shared that he did not think I would be happy as a PhD professor, but that I had a vocation to ordained ministry.
As we talked about how to explore that vocation, he suggested that I go someplace far away and try doing some ministry things.
“Try preaching, see what it’s like to make yourself open to pastoral needs, try listening for a change instead of just teaching.”
I agreed, but on the terms that I did this as far away from anyone who might know me so as not to be embarrassed if this turned out to be a failure. ACMNP came to recruit, and when I asked to go far away, and when we talked about possible locations, the fact that I had five years of rock climbing under my belt made the suggestion obvious. Yosemite.
I got on a Greyhound bus when classes ended and was at the park the Thursday before Memorial Day. Checking in with the employment office, I listed my various skills and experience, dropping my keys – fastened to a carabiner – on the table. When the employment manager saw a real carabiner, he asked me if I was a climber. “Five years,” I told him. “Can you sell gear?” he asked. “You bet, and boots as well.” So my park employment was to work in the climbing shop, selling boots and hardware and ropes and tents. 40 hours a week with Saturday afternoons off to recruit worshipers, Sundays off to preach, and Mondays off to climb.
I learned to preach, and learned that it was an entirely different skill than teaching. Starting with reading from a manuscript, with the help and suggestions of an ACMNP staffer, I learned to put away the paper and just say it. The best moment – which brought me to tears then and still can to this day – was the day the Gospel lesson offered Jesus’ remarks on the house built on the sand versus the house built on the rock.
There I was, on the sandy beach of the Merced River, which clearly had been shifted and sorted by the floods of the spring thaw.
And above my left shoulder, everyone in the amphitheater could see El Capitan, the largest single rock in North America, only some of which is visible above ground. Pretty much all I had to say was, “Sand here. Rock there. Do you get it?” Okay, maybe I said a bit more, but the point was that everyone there got it, especially me.
My ACMNP experience confirmed for me, in the gentlest and yet most powerful way, that God was calling me to a life of ministry, not of expertise.
Mark G., Yosemite National Park, 1978
The Lord said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”