I’ve been collecting call stories from my friends who are serving in diaconal ministries – ministries of service – expressed in the United Methodist Church through the provisional and ordained deacon, diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and home missioners. In this post you will hear from Barbara Ward who is an ordained deacon, retired, in the Virginia Annual Conference. Here are Barbara’s words:
Standing before the Bishop to be ordained as one of the first Virginia Conference Deacons in Full Connection was, for me, the answer to an impossible dream.
I was just sixteen years old when I received a calling to ministry. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I sat alone in the choir loft of my church, waiting for others to arrive for the Youth Choir Rehearsal. I was gazing idly at the empty church balcony when I was drawn to what looked vaguely like a blue cloud.
I looked out of the church windows, but I could see nothing there which was reflected in the “cloud.” Puzzled, I continued staring at the apparition. Quietly, as if whispered in my heart, I heard the words, ” I need you to preach the gospel”. That seemed impossible to me, a girl in a Baptist church in the 1950’s. However, the urging was strong, clear, and so unrelenting, I was compelled to pray, ” Yes, Lord. I will go where you lead me’, and I walked down the church aisle the following Sunday and declared my intent to “give my life in full-time service to God and the church.”
Since I had studied music for years, it seemed logical to continue in that path until I received further direction. I went to college and earned a B.A. degree in church music, organ playing and religion. My plan was to meet and marry a minister and fulfill my calling by becoming a minister’s wife. (Don’t laugh, girls!)
God is good. That happened, and I spent a number of years as my husband’s helper, raising two children, and active in the Conference lay ministry program. On a much later Sunday afternoon I was informed by our then Conference Lay leader, Dr. James Holsinger, that the Virginia Conference was sponsoring a Conference on Evangelism in the Caribbean island of Antigua, and would send four delegates, clergy and lay, to the Conference, aIl expenses paid, and he said, “You will be one of them, and, you will work to become certified in evangelism by the National Board of Education of the UMC.” I responded that it sounded wonderful, but I am not interested in working in evangelism. “I was called to preach the gospel.”
“Will you go home and pray about it, and call me tonight,” Jim asked.
I said I would do that, and I did. I was shocked to get the answer to my prayer, “You have complained that no one is listening to you. maybe you aren’t listening.”
I went to Antigua and it changed my life. I found out what it really means to preach the gospel. I came home and entered Union/PSCE, received the certification in evangelism with further classes from Chandler and Asbury seminaries, served as a district Director of Evangelism, and then completed my work as a Minister of Discipleship in a local church. Health problems forced me to retire from the conference, yet I continue to work actively in the local church and as a chaplain in the international, ecumenical Order Of Saint Luke the physician.
The young girl who was called to “preach the gospel” has had an incredible journey.
God IS good!