Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: randolph-macon college

More Than Firewood

More Than FirewoodWhen I was a kid, in the cold of winter, we heated our home through a wood stove – a fireplace. One of our chores during those cold months was to bring firewood up to the house so that there would be wood near by in the cold of the night.

The firewood chores, however, started well before winter. Sometimes as early as the summer, but always during the fall. Any trees that had fallen during a summer storm, or that just needed to come down, were fair game. Dad would cut the trees with a chain saw, and then the splitting would happen with an ax. We would be responsible for hauling the split wood to the wood pile and stack it just right.

It was sometime in 2008, while working at Lebanon United Methodist, I got a phone call about firewood. There was someone in our community without firewood to heat their home in the cold winter days. In the county over there was a church who had a firewood ministry, and as such they had a stock pile. They allowed us to use their wood. I called the United Methodist Men‘s president, Claude, and we rode out to load up a trailer full of wood and deliver it to the home in need.

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My Call to Ministry Part 2

College was great! I had excellent professors who were mentors to me. B. J. Seymour, Steve Tuell, and Ira Andrews opened my eyes to the Bible and to the faith way beyond anything Sunday school had ever taught me. They also nurtured my call to ministry. They saw within me something that God was doing that I was still trying to get okay with.

My first semester at Randolph-Macon, the education class I took had us placed in classrooms to observe. We were to also teach one class. I was placed in a 7th grade civics class. Other than my limited experience in the youth ministry at the time, I didn’t know what to do in a civics class. Give me some marshmallows or a few rolls of toilet paper, and we can play some crazy games. But civics?

Part of the project was to interview the teacher of that class. We used his lunch break as our time to talk. I spent most of my time talking with him about faith and religion than I did about education. One day he flat out told me that if had it to do again, he wouldn’t teach. The amount of time he actually got to spend on just teaching wasn’t in comparison to the amount of time he spent doing all the other stuff.

Drs. Seymour, Tuell, and Andrews all encouraged me to go to seminary. They also encouraged me in making connections between pop culture and our faith.

After graduating from Randolph-Macon College in 2004, I went straight to seminary, attending Union Theological and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, now called Union Presbyterian Seminary. My time in seminary would send me into another whirlwind of discernment. I spent a lot of time struggling with whether or not I was being called to ordained ministry. There was no doubt in my mind that God had called me to ministry, but did my vocational calling fall under the heading of “clergy?”

My mentor at the time, Mary Sue Swann, and I spent a lot time discussing this. She would recommend that I read the book A Deacon’s Heart. Margart Ann Crain and Jack Seymour’s words were telling me who I was in a way I had never experienced before. These words affirmed my calling to ordained ministry as a servant leader in the life of the church, being a bridge between the Word and the world.

UMC Order of DeaconMore importantly, it introduced to me the Order of Deacon in the United Methodist Church. Mary Sue introduced to me that the image of clergy that I had – the solo pastor who preached every Sunday and “ran” the church – was not the only image the church had of clergy. I learned that I have a deacon’s heart, longing for the healing of creation, plus mutual and connecting ministries that reach the poor and the hungry; the sick and the imprisoned; the lost and the lonely.

My last semester in seminary, however, was a tough semester. All my classes were tough and demanding classes. My work load was the heaviest it had been in all my time in seminary. After graduating in 2007, I took a year to discern if ordained ministry was indeed where God was calling me. I felt in that last semester that I had not heard much from God on this. I audited a class that spring with Dr. Katie Cannon, whose words of wisdom helped me put things in perspective. That fall I enrolled to take three seminary courses that were required by the United Methodist Church, but were not required for my Masters in Christian Education.

The rest, as they say, is history. I was ordained as a Deacon in Full Connection at the Virginia Annual Conference in June 2013.

Ordained!

My Call to Ministry Part 1

When I was in high school, through the combined experiences of youth group, being on the Ashland District Youth Council, and participating in a summer work-camp called Richmond Metro Workcamp, I began to experience a call to ministry. I don’t remember sharing it with others. But it did reach a point where they shared it with me. It all became very real when the pastor of the small United Methodist Church where I grew up asked if I had ever thought about going into the ministry. As I finished high school, I was much more comfortable with the idea that God was calling me to ministry.

But, doubt would creep in. I would go to community college and get an Associates Degree in Early Childhood Development. I envisioned myself getting a teaching degree and teaching in a school. After getting that degree, I got a full-time job at a United Methodist church working with their weekday children’s ministry. During that time, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and in about eight months would claim the promise of the resurrection. Those eight months would send me into a whirlwind of thinking and rethinking my vocational call. The reality of death and loss hit much harder than Bambi losing his mother ever did.

This whirlwind sent me through many days and hours pondering in an empty church or walking alone on a nature trail. I was asking myself questions like, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life? What is my purpose?”

Me on my wedding day with the window dedicated to my dad.

Me on my wedding day with the window dedicated to my dad.

My father claimed the promise of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 2001. Before he passed, two things happened. I applied to Randolph-Macon College, the college I had wanted to attend since I was six, and I applied for a new job as the Youth Director at another United Methodist church. A week before my father passed, I was hired as the Youth Director. When I told Dad, he replied, “That’s good, Son. That’s what you’ve always wanted to do.” (Two months later, I was accepted at Randolph-Macon.)

In June of my first summer as a Youth Director, I took a small group of youth to Durham, North Carolina for a youth work-camp. The work crew that I was assigned to worked on the home of an elderly African-American woman who had adopted two teenage girls and was battling cancer. I had resolved, subconsciously, not to get attached. I did not want to experience the grief and pain that I had just experienced through the loss of my father.

During lunch on that first day, the youth on the crew had invited the home owner to eat with us and join us for our devotion time. The youth had decided that we would eat lunch in her bedroom because she was unable to move freely on her own. I was the last one to enter the room, and when I did, the home owner announced, “There’s the minister!” I was quick to correct her that I was a not a minister, and she was quick to correct me that I was. “When you walked passed me this morning,” she said, “I felt the Holy Spirit move through you.” Not sure how to respond, I politely said, “Thank you,” and sat with the youth for lunch and our devotion.

A Kingdom of Peace

Read Isaiah 11:1-10

Advent Ponderings

We can all remember where we were when we heard about the terrorist attacks on 9/11. I was walking across campus at Randolph-Macon College. I had an early class that morning and was walking towards the library when I overheard other groups of students talking about the attack. I couldn’t believe it. And truthfully there was a part of me that didn’t believe it. I by-passed the library and went to my car. I turned the radio on and listened with a heavy heart to the news reports of airplanes flying into the World Trade Center buildings.

How could such a thing happen? How could there be so much hate in the world that hundreds of people would be killed?

College students who are freshmen this year were in the first grade when 9/11 happened. The only world they know is this post-9/11 world. A world where war is common. A world where politics are more important than people, no matter what side of the aisle you are on. A world where bullying and school shootings are the norm.

A world filled with violence.

In her book God’s Gift of Love, Donna Schaper writes, “From a world without love and without hope, nothing is possible, expect a repeat of the same injuries.” Injustice breeds injustice. Violence breeds violence. At some point the cycle of hate must stop. But how?

Nelson Mandela is an example of someone who ended the cycle of hate. After being a, at sometimes violent, leader against his government, and being imprisoned, something happened. He changed. When he emerged from his jail cell, he was a different man. A man filled with peace. He led his people to become united and to reconciliation.

Mandela made a difference in many ways, across many countries. And we argue that some of the changes were big and some of the changes were small. But they were changes. And they started within himself. He found peace in himself before he was able to lead others to find peace. Change towards peace does not always have to be by the pound. Change towards peace can be by the ounce. Ounce by ounce through prayer and contemplation, worship and Bible study, scheduled acts of mercy and random acts of kindness, we change ourselves, and make the world around us a better place.

Because love breeds love. Hope breeds hope. Justice breeds justice. And peace breeds peace.

Guest Post: The Intentionality of the Bailey Program

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of guest posts from Bailey Scholars at Randolph-Macon College.  Rev. Adam Kelchner graduated from R-MC in 2009, then studied at Vanderbilt University, and now serves at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville. 

When I was 12 years old I experienced the joy and blessing of leading worship at my home church in Richmond, Virginia. It was after that experience that I began sensing and discerning a call to ministry. This discernment lasted for several years and coincided with the decision on where I would apply to and subsequently attend college. My orientation was toward ministry though I did not know at the time whether I would serve in the local church or beyond it. Honestly, I did not know whether ordination was a part of my life’s calling to serve in the name of Jesus Christ.

Now that I’m writing a guest blog post for Jason Stanley, I’m reminded how thankful I am for his previous ministry with young people at Lebanon UMC. I found refuge in that ministry as a young person and it was Jason’s encouragement that led me to the A. Purnell Bailey Scholar program at Randolph-Macon College.

In mid-January 2005, I knew where I was going to college the following Fall. I knew that a generous portion (which I doubt I could ever repay) of my educational expenses were covered. I eagerly awaited the start of my undergraduate studies at Randolph-Macon College. I understood that the ensuing four years were for the purpose of shaping my mind and spirit as the foundations for a lifetime of ministry.

So looking back now, from my vantage point in an appointment in a vital local church and urban campus ministry setting, what do I see in the Bailey Scholar program? One of my colleagues, Kelly Conner, suggested that the Bailey program offers community-it does! I also want to suggest that the program offers intentionality. The scholarship is structured in such a way that academic formation, spiritual formation, and a call to ministry (present and future) are woven together.

To me, an exam on the writings of Paul was more than an academic exercise. It was preparation for teaching and preaching regularly in my parish setting. A writing exercise on Holocaust literature for Dr. Breitenberg was more than an academic exercise-it was mental and spiritual preparation for a Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics. An internship at the Virginia Annual Conference Office or with Volunteers in Mission, Southeastern Jurisdiction Office planted deep roots for my present ministry leading mission teams abroad and guiding campus ministry at Belmont University.

I trace a long arc of intentionality through the structure and content of the Bailey Scholar program, my academic formation at Randolph-Macon College, professional internships with church programs, my theological education at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and my movement into commissioned ministry of the church. Above all, the Bailey Scholar program reminds me of the power of God’s generosity and free grace that transforms our lives.

Rev. Adam Kelchner

For more information about the Bailey Scholarship program at Randolph-Macon College, click here or email Jason for more information.

Remembering Ira

photo: rmc.edu

On August 17, 2012 we lost a great saint, Ira Andrews, III to a four-year battle with cancer. Ira was the dean of students at Randolph-Macon College for 35 years. In addition he was a graduate of R-MC (class of ’59), a United Methodist minister, and a religious studies professor. Ira was a beloved member of the R-MC community. His memorial service was yesterday in Ashland, and I was unable to attend.

From 2001-2004, he was one of my professors and mentors. Ira taught me in a number of church history and theology courses. Ira’s classes were always popular. Ira had a gift for asking questions without giving answers. I have a clear memory of Ira leaning back in his chair, hand on his chin, listening intently to what was being said, and then he would ask the most unexpected question, yet a question that was guaranteed to make you think. I remember working on a group project for Liberation Theology, where we took the time to think through all the questions Ira might ask. Of course, there was really no way of successfully doing that. Ira would do the same thing in my interviews with the Ashland District Committee on Ordained Ministry.  When I admitted that I was slightly nervous about the theology committee, Ira quickly started shooting rounds of questions at me, which would give me strength for the interviews.

Ira had a gift of getting young people to think. At times it wasn’t so much the answer that mattered, as much as the process in answering the question. This could have easily been the time and place in which I came to love questions. It was easy to feel intimated by his presence and knowledge, but there was no need to be. He asked open-ended questions while being non-judgmental. Ira was a kind, loving, and compassionate person, which is what made him a great teacher. In seminary and beyond, I have found myself endless times commenting, “I learned that in Ira’s class.”

Ira was one of those teachers who was able to bring out the best in his students. You did the work in the class, has heavy loaded as it was at times, not because you HAD to, but because you wanted to. You wanted to be as prepared as you could to be in dialogue with Ira during the next class.  And at the end of the day – at the end of the semester – you were a better person because of it. I think this is one reason why I came to love theological discussions, and engaging young people in them today.

It was during college that I began to first write about theological connections in film and television. I recently pulled out some of my papers that I wrote during college. There was one paper where I put Augustine and Charles Schultz in dialogue with one another. But, my favorite papers were the ones in which I quoted Buffy Summers from the television show Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  I will be honest, I was a bit nervous the first time I did this. I had written a paper on Paul Tillich’s Theology of Culture, and somehow I had worked in Buffy. Ira was a big supporter of this. After that Tillich paper, he encouraged me countless times to continue to this, including sending me to be in conversation with a professor who was working on a writing project on Buffy.

Ira also encouraged me, as he did so many others, in my call to ordained ministry.  In fact, he was consistent in casually talking to me about it. He was never “in your face” about it, that just was not his style. I can recall conversations he had with me in the halls, in the old chapel, or on the campus grounds about ministry, assessing in his own way where I was in my discernment, and offering words of encouragement that one the roughest days kept me going.

I had the privilege in recent years to serve on the Advisory Board for the R-MC Bailey Scholarship program with Ira. This included a chance to interview high school students for the scholarship. It was an honor to sit at the table with Ira and observe him do what he does best, ask questions, listen passionately to young people, and be the great encourager. He was one of the few people who could gracefully see you as a student, a friend, and a collegue, without any of them getting in the way of the other. In one of these interviews, after the interviewee left the room and we were to discuss the interview, I spent more time picking Ira’s brain about his past experiences. Even after all of these years, Ira was still so fascinating! Even though he had been fighting cancer, Ira was still sharp and still had the ability to get you thinking, even – especially – when you didn’t see it coming.

Ira and his friend Pepper Laughon inside the Andrews Hall.
photo: rmc.edu

A month ago, Megan and I went to R-MC for the SERVE retreat, a retreat for high school students exploring a call to ordained ministry. We stayed in the new Ira Andrews dorms. As a student at R-MC I did not live on campus. In early August I got the chance to stay in an RA room in the Andrews Hall. During the retreat, high schoolers worked an eight hour day on a home in the Ashland area, seconds from R-MC campus. The event was a tribute, in a way, to Ira. Service was an essential piece of who Ira was. The College’s Provost, Dr. William Franz, was quoted in one article as saying, “Ira’s life made manifest the scriptural value that greatness is achieved by becoming the servant of all.”

Ira will be missed, there is no doubt about that. But, in each of us who knew him, learned from him, and worked with him, there is a little bit of him still around.

God bless you, Ira, and the lives you had changed.

For more memories and comments about Ira, visit the college’s web site.

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