That’s right. I’m gettin’ ordained. Gator-style.
To all of my friends, family, and supporters:
On Sunday April 19, 2015 First Lutheran Church (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) in Gainesville, FL voted unanimously to extend a call to me to serve as their Assistant Pastor. I will accept this call and be ordained into the office of public ministry and installed at FLC Gainesville on Sunday June 7, 2015.
Below is a letter that explains why I am accepting this call, who I have to thank for this, what I will be doing in this calling, and a little about how I am going to balance between being a full-time religion scholar and a called and ordained Lutheran pastor.
This is the culmination of a multi-year process. There were many of you who, along the way, encouraged me to consider pastoral ministry. For that, I am heartily grateful. Ever since I was in high school I have had various mentors who motivated me and I am indebted to them as well. From being baptized at Prince of Peace (Fremont, CA) to my upbringing and confirmation at Trinity Lutheran Church (Simi Valley, CA), and my practical training at churches such as the Manawatu Parish in Palmerston North and Feilding, New Zealand there have been many congregations, pastors, and leaders who have shaped me along the way. In addition to these churches, I must thank my friends and mentors at Simi Covenant Church (Simi Valley, CA); Mt. Hope Community Church (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA); Aliso Viejo Church of the Cross (CA); St. Luke’s (Westminster, CA); Abbey West (Irvine, CA); the Themba Trust (Mabola, South Africa); Mountain View Lutheran Church (Apache Junction, AZ); International Friendship House (Tempe, AZ); LINC Houston (TX); Memorial Lutheran Church (Katy, TX); CrossPoint Community Church (Katy, TX); and especially the faculty and staff at CUI and the CMC.
My mother likes to remind me that for a second grade journal entry when the class was prompted to write about “what I want to be when we grow up” I wrote, “I want to be a preacher” and drew an albed man in the pulpit with an arm raised in proclamation. While this may have been an initial spark, I remember the moment when I concretely felt an “inner call” to pastoral ministry. Attending a service at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Wellington, New Zealand I was watching Rev. Dr. Mark Whitfield administer communion and I thought to myself, “I want to serve in that way.”
When Elizabeth and I returned to the U.S. after our time abroad I enrolled in seminary with the Cross-cultural Ministry Center (CMC) at Concordia University Irvine (CUI). The CMC is an alternative route to ordination in the LCMS and as such is committed to forming faithful missionary pastors to initiate and develop culture-crossing ministries. Guided by the mission of CUI and in partnership with Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the CMC is faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions without compromise. After four years of academic study with a concurrent vicarage, graduates finish with a Master of Arts in Theology and Culture from CUI and receive full certification for ordination as a pastor in the LCMS. The CMC program is focused on mission integration with the everyday life of its trainees, embedded learning in missiological and cross-cultural contexts, international and intergenerational diversity, and professional excellence in the classroom and the parish.
In addition to the call to pastoral ministry I also remember the moment I felt called to teach at the university level. I was sitting in the late Rev. Dr. Eshetu Abate Koyra’s Systematics class and thought to myself, “I want to do this someday.” Thus, upon completion of my MA I was admitted to the PhD program in religious studies at the University of Florida and deferred an immediate call to a congregation.
As a PhD student in the Religion Department at the University of Florida I am engaged in a course of study in which I focus on Religion in the Americas and Global Islam. My particular areas of research include global Islam, Islam in the Americas, globalization and religion, intersections of religion & culture, Christian-Muslim relations, global Christianity, and theoretical approaches to the study religious studies theory. I also continue to write & speak on the topic of religion and culture as both an academic and a journalist covering 'the god beat’ for national print and digital publications. As you well know, I blog about religion and culture and all of my work can found here.
Even with accepting the call to FLC Gainesville I will remain full-time in my studies and work for the university. I am being called as a bi-vocational pastor to serve by preaching, teaching, assisting with sermon and worship planning, overseeing digital media at FLC, and assisting with other pastoral duties as need be. A bi-vocational pastor is an ordained minister who follows the model of the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:34) by offering ministry without expectation of full-time remuneration, instead supplying his primary vocational and financial needs via another job or business outside the church.
Bi-vocational ministry has a long history in the service of the church. Often times, for many reasons and in various contexts, pastors have served out their call with a congregation while at the same time earning their living through their own entrepreneurial efforts or employment in another line of work. The term “part-time” is not an accurate way to describe a bi-vocational pastor. While I may be receiving a partial salary, I am is still a full-time pastor. Furthermore, a bi-vocational pastor should not be considered with any more or less esteem than any other type of pastor serving the church.
There will obviously be tensions with this call. Not only will I have to balance my multiple vocations, or callings, as husband, son, brother, PhD student, public intellectual, and pastor, but I will also have to navigate the ambiguities and ambivalences present in being both a scholar of religion and a theologian (how to do that is the subject for another post for the future). While I am motivated by my theological perspectives I am primarily informed by the ethnographic, historical, and sociological study of religion and driven by a passion for religious literacy in my role, and calling, as a religion scholar studying global Islam and religion in the Americas. In short, I feel called to the work of religious literacy and serving in both of these capacities allows me to, in my humble opinion, do each better.
As it says on my bio page, I intend to serve as a forward-thinking Lutheran theologian & pastor who accents 'glocal' 21st-century Christianity as a "theologian without borders." Weaving together historical context, societal exegesis, & a fair dose of ironic humor, my goal is to serve & speak with power, love, & sound mind.
In order to successfully serve in both capacities as PhD student and pastor I covet your thoughts, prayers, and support. I also ask that you think of my wife — Elizabeth — an accomplished woman on her own right who also buoys my work as my life partner. To her I am eternally thankful. In addition to my parents Bob and Sandy, my brother Brett, my grandmother Millie, and my wider family I have had a lifelong support system that has prompted me in this direction in ways both seen and unseen. Thank you. I love you.
If you have any more questions or comments concerning my ordination I ask that you either leave a comment below or contact me via my website. I invite you all to my ordination service in June. It’s going to be fun. If you would like to send your greetings you can post them to: First Lutheran Church, 1801 NW 5th Ave., Gainesville, FL 32603.
Peace - Ken