One of the questions frequently asked of ministers by people is, “Why?” Why a minister? The question is also asked by the church of people seeking to be ministers, although usually it is framed in terms of “a call,” believing that people do not so much choose to be ministers as respond to a “call” of God. One of my professors at theological college said, probably with tongue-in-cheek, that this is because no one in their right mind would choose to be a minister, (hence the psychological evaluation that all candidates for ministry undergo).
As I have listened to my colleagues, I have learned that this call comes in an infinite variety of ways, not always (hardly ever) from a voice in the night, a burning bush or delivered by angels in white. One of my friends in theological college heard his call, literally, from the back of a truck he was driving that was loaded with dim sims for a Chinese restaurant. I have always harboured a thought that it might have been the effect of eating too many of the dim sims, but who can say?
My call was nowhere near as obvious; although when I look back, it seems that it was just as effective. Growing up with church-going parents, I have always been part of a church, but never felt that I belonged. Even when in Sunday School, I questioned the beliefs that everyone else seemed to hold, and this questioning never abated. What I imagined to be the core beliefs of my fellow church members, and what I heard from the pulpit, simply were not congruent with my perception and experience of reality.
In 1971, at age 25, when I emigrated to Australia, I attended the Burwood (Vic) Methodist Church, where there was a bible study group led by the Rev. Bruce Barbour, who would be the Dean of the Melbourne College of Divinity when I attend the Uniting Church Theological Hall several years later. Although I did not attend his study group, I heard some interesting, common sense interpretations of the Bible from those who went along. My attention had been grabbed.
Further inquiries on my part led to the loan of a couple books; the first real theology books I had ever seen. One was Jesus Means Freedom by the German biblical scholar, Ernst Kasemann. Whilst it was heavy going, this book introduced me to modern biblical scholarship and, more importantly, to a Jesus who had immense, life-giving relevance to me.
My reaction was anger. I had been a regular weekly church attender for almost 25 years, and this was the very first time that Christianity had made sense to me. At this point I would have laughed at anyone who suggested that I would one day be a clergyman; I was too angry at the long line of clergyman who had failed to make this new Jesus real to me.
Yet the anger continued to brew, and one day in 1975 my minister in Wodonga, Gregor Henderson, hinted to me that perhaps I needed to make the anger work for me and for God. Perhaps I could help bring that message, which had renewed my interest in Christianity, to others. It was a couple more years before I actually began the series of steps into ministry, but in hindsight, the path was laid out clearly; a path that was hard to avoid.
It is also a path I have never regretted choosing.