As I start on my blogging adventure, you should probably learn who you’re dealing with. My name is Casey Ann Irwin, and I’m a clergyperson in West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. In our denominational terms, I’m a “provisional elder” and hopefully will be fully ordained this summer. I’m now serving my 2nd appointment as clergy, working as the Associate Pastor at Grace UMC in Perrysburg (more about that role another time).
I’m also a leader in a young clergy and families network here in West Ohio called Refresh. From time to time, I’ll share on some other pieces about Refresh, but I’m launching my blog with our blogging initiative, R12. 12 Topics, 12 Months, all young clergy bloggers. This month we’re all sharing our call, our connection, and why we’re involved with Refresh. So please take some time and read what others have to say.
I didn’t start out knowing I wanted to be clergy. In fact, I tried everything I could to serve and be employed in other ways by churches, but God kept calling me to this role. After years of being a leader in whatever ministry I happened to get interested in, I started employment as a Children’s Director (at age 18… what church is crazy enough to do that?! One that has a history of investing in the faith and leadership of young people). I volunteered with campus ministry leadership, and a local church in my college town while I went to school and taught dance (an interesting story for another time). I always felt like Isaiah- when God offers him a grand vision of what can be shared with the people, God asks, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?” I like to imagine that Isaiah was hopping up and down with his hand in the air, like a child who wants to be the special helper in class, as he replied “Here am I, Lord. Send me.”But finally, working as a counselor at a United Methodist summer camp, I got an answer to my lingering question- What would you have me do God? After weeks of prayer and conversation, Scriptures that spoke to my heart and pastors who bluntly directed me to a life in ministry, I asked for a confirmation from God- you know the kind, when you bargain with God and beg for a sign? Well, like Gideon, I asked for a sign, and immediately, a friend, unprompted by me, laid a hand on my shoulder and began to pray outloud for my future in ministry and the people who would come to know Christ deeply because of me.
Someday I’ll share the rest of the journey, but that affirmation is really what got me here, knowing that God wanted to use me, as I raised my hand and asked to be sent.
What I love about being in the United Methodist Church is being connected. So often, we try in our personal faith, in our churches, even just as human beings, to go at life alone. We think we know best or that we can solve every struggle that comes our way, without help. Just as God offers us the truth that we can’t save ourselves, can’t truly live without a dependence on and love of God, we get the same instruction about being in relationship with others. We’re created to do life together. No, the connection is not perfect. I have plenty of days when I grieve over the man-made flaws (especially as I’m in the midst of ordination paperwork). But when we’re trusting the power of the Holy Spirit to use us all together, how much more can we do when we choose to work in relationship with one another. It’s now amazing to me how much power there is in a group of people, a group of churches and clergy, a world-wide denomination, choosing to follow God’s vision for bringing the kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.
Now being young, 27, and female, and a mother of 2, I’m in the minority in quite a few ways as clergy. So the opportunity we’ve created with Refresh, our young clergy network here in West Ohio, is giving me the chance to find the few people who have a shared lifestage and career path. With Refresh, and the social network we’re growing, we’re able to honestly connect in a new way across the United Methodist “connection.” What I mean is, most of us don’t follow the “traditional” model for seminary anymore. Online education and second career ministry means our paths are so spread apart. Yet within the connection, through Refresh, I’ve uniquely built my trusted circle. I’ve found people who, like me, have to constantly justify their call story and career choices. I’ve found people who my family can share with, so that as we itinerate around West Ohio, my kids always have some familiar faces in their life. I’ve found people who don’t think I’m crazy when I share my mish-mash of futuristic, strategic, and ideation based dreams for myself, my church, or the future of the UMC. (If those words sound goofy, get ahold of StrengthsFinder 2.0 as a great tool for both personal life and for ministry)
Most importantly, through connection, I’ve found friends. And considering I’ve lived in 4 different homes in my 5 years in Ohio, that’s a really big deal.
So what’s the point?
Authentic community and authentic ministry go hand in hand. And the more we can foster both in the structures of the “connection”, the more we can truly “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”