Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Youth Director

Called to Include

The smell of Central American coffee was rich in the air.  The roar of the blenders making smoothies filled the small coffee shop.  High school students were slowly gathering in for their Thursday night ritual of coffee, cookies, smoothies, and Jesus.  Andrew had been working as the youth minister at a small mainline Protestant church for a number of years.  This small group of high school students had just started meeting at a local coffee shop recently.  The owners of the shop had graciously allowed Andrew’s students to meet in the back of the coffee shop where sofas had been set up.

The high school students were scattered on the sofas, some were on the floor, and others had pulled chairs over.  Then, Mike walked in.  Mike was a freshman in high school.  Middle school had not been good to him.  He had been picked on, teased, bullied, beat up, face stuffed in lockers.  You name it, it most likely happened to Mike.  Mike was a tall and skinny guy, but he walked slummed over as if an old man beaten down by age.  He found a space on one of the sofas, and slouched down into the sofa with his long legs extending higher into the air than his head.

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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.

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