"Brad - I'm curious how you ended up in New Mexico - and as a minister! A far cry from occupational therapist at Mayo in Rochester. Did your kids move with you? You had sent me a couple photos at one time of your granddaughter - how old is she now? Do you have more grandchildren? Take care and have a good day."
I received the message above from a friend whom I reconnected with on Facebook earlier this week. Her basic question is one I have heard a number of times over the past three years that we’ve been in New Mexico.
Minnesota to New Mexico? Mayo Clinic to ministry? Instead of writing her a personal answer I thought I would write about it here and share with whomever reads my blog.
The short answer: One thing led to another. The long answer is more detailed. I don’t recall quite when I got to know the person who asked the question, or when the last time was that we had regular contact with each other, so I'll go back to the year 2000 and try to bring out the key parts of the story.
In 2000 I was working at the Mayo Clinic as an occupational therapist. I had been there 14 years. My wife and I had two children at home and for several years we had been attending a Methodist church. I had grown up and been confirmed in a Lutheran church but had spent nearly my entire adult life outside of a church. I'm not quite sure when our family began attending church, perhaps 1996. Our son's Boy Scout troop met there and our daughter had been participating in some youth activities at the invitation of one our neighbors. Once we started going it became a habit. Looking back on those days I would say that I was a Christian in name only. If someone had asked I would have said I was a Christian but I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what to say to further explain that identity.
In the fall of 2000 our church offered an Alpha course, a 10-week class which intended to outline basic Christian beliefs. I thought this would be good for my wife and I to attend, and we did. Towards the end of the Alpha course I had an experience that is hard to describe. Not a vision, or voices, nor a powerful personal conviction about sin and salvation but an experience where one moment things were as they always were, and next moment where everything was changed. In that change I knew very clearly that God was real, and that if God was real then everything in my life was different. How that change would work itself out was a process that would take years, and in fact it is still happening today.
Two things that happened as a result of my conversion experience were that I began to have an active prayer life, meaning I began to spend time in prayer each day, and that Sunday morning worship began to mean something. I just didn’t go to church for 45 minutes but the hymns, the prayers, the preaching, all began to have meaning that lasted beyond the end of the worship service.
I came to understand I needed to be in a Bible study and in the fall of 2001 I joined the local Community Bible Study (CBS) group. I had two acquaintances in the study and thought it would be a good place for me to be. It turned out to be awesome. I spent 3 years in CBS as a regular student. In those years we studied Revelation, Acts and Deuteronomy and Psalms. I was in different small groups each year and really benefited from the work of our small group leaders and the different people in the groups each year. I would add that the year we did Deuteronomy/Psalms was the year I learned to love God's word. I had decided to read both books over the course of the summer as preparation for the study. An overly ambitious project, as it took more than the summer to do. But in the course of reading the Psalms I began to love the word that God had given to His people.
In 2004 I was invited to be a small group leader within CBS. I was paired with an experienced small group leader and we worked together for 4-5 years. Facilitating a small group was a rich opportunity to grow in my faith but the real benefit of being a small group leader was that the leaders got together each week for their own time of prayer and study. Each Saturday we spent 45 minutes in prayer and 45 minutes going over the next week's lesson. I don’t have the words to describe how precious that weekly prayer group was.
Without overloading this blog post in minutiae I'll leave out some of the other ways in which I was growing through my involvement with CBS, and also the things I was becoming involved in within my local church.
In early 2005, I think, I had casual conversations with three different people, conversations that had in common the idea of going to seminary. Thinking that perhaps God was calling me to get some education, and not having any idea of where that education would lead, I began to explore attending a seminary. I talked it over with my pastor, who for a number of reasons didn’t think I should. So I set the idea aside. If it was of God then God would bring it back up. In late 2005 He did. I talked with my pastor, a different person, as our pastor had changed in the summer of that year, and he was encouraging of the idea.
In my work at Mayo a number of my colleagues were pursuing advanced degrees through distance learning programs. I did not feel as if God was calling me to leave my job at the moment for the sake of going to school for what was at that time a vague purpose and so I began to explore seminary distance learning programs. In the fall of 2006 I began the distance learning program at Western Theological Seminary (WTS) in Holland, MI. I did lots of coursework on line, attended classes on campus twice a year for two weeks, and also had assignemnts through my local church. If I stayed on schedule I would complete a Master's in Divinity in 5 years of "part-time" study, compared to 3 years for a full-time student.
Of the 17 students who started my cohort together, 6 of us graduated on-time in June, 2011. Taking 18 graduate credits a year, while working full-time, makes for a very busy five years! As many of you may know, there were a number of major life changes in that period as well. In early 2007 my wife and I divorced. We had two children together, both of whom left home in 2005. In the late summer of 2007 Robin and I met, marrying that fall. Robin also had two adult children, virtually the same ages as mine, and also living on their own. In February 2009 we were asked to adopt one of our grandchildren. Kat, who was 2 at the time, moved in with us a month later and her adoption was finalized later in the year.
I began at WTS in 2006 and sometime in my second year I began to sense a calling towards pastoral ministry. In early 2011, shortly before graduation and according to the guidelines of our denomination for seminary students, I began to seek a church to serve. It was a process that turned out to be much different from what we had expected. We began looking at vacancies in MN, IA and WI, because that we there the majority of our families were. Perhaps 125 or so churches in those states. Pastors move. They retire. An opportunity is sure to arise. So we thought as we began.
I sent my information to churches, without much in the way of positive response. We gradually expanded our search to other states in the Midwest, and then as far as New York. Over the course of the 2 years I was looking for a church to serve I would average a phone interview about once every three months. Once I had a second interview. I came to figure out that as someone in their mid-50's and without a background in ministry, say as a youth pastor, I wasn't a highly desirable pastoral prospect. Good thing I went to school part-time and still had a full-time job!
In November 2012 I had a phone call from a friend of mine from seminary. He had graduated before me and a church where he had almost gone to in late 2011 was still looking for a pastor. It was on a Native American reservation in New Mexico. He had received updated information about the church and their search and if I was interested he would send it to me. Throughout the search process Robin and I were praying that we would be able to discern God's leading and then faithfully follow that lead. And so we asked my friend to forward the information. He did so. We looked it over and responded by sending the search committee the denomination's standard information on pastoral candidates.
In February 2013, while on vacation in North Carolina, I had a phone interview with the search committee of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church in Dulce, NM. Then in April Robin, Kat and I went to Dulce for a long weekend. We toured the community, met with the search committee and I led worship on Sunday morning. In June they called me to serve as their pastor. But there was a hiccup in the process and in early July I had to make a trip to Denver to meet with some people for the denomination who had final approval of the call.
On a Monday I met with the group in Denver for several hours and while I was waiting in the security line at the airport they informed me that they were approving the call to Dulce. I had had two days off from work at Mayo and when I went back on Wednesday I gave my supervisor a letter informing her of my intent to retire at the end of the month. So I left Mayo Clinic after 27 years as an occupational therapist on July 31st, was ordained as Minister of Word and Sacrament on August 6th, we left Rochester for Dulce on August 22nd, arriving on the 26th, and my first Sunday in the pulpit was September 1st. Tomorrow, Sunday Septembers 4th, will be the first Sunday of our fourth year. How time flies!
And that, more or less, is how I and my family got from healthcare to here.
My friend had a few other questions about our family, and so here goes. Hope it makes sense! Robin and I have four adult children, two each from our previous marriages, M, J, N and B. Together we have Kat, who began as a granddaughter and is adopted as our daughter. Through our adult children we have these grandchildren: J, I, A, S, R, M, Ta and De. R died last year in an accident at home. Many of our grandchildren have half-siblings. These children are Ka, L, C, I, Dc, Tr, Te, Ja, H, M, Ar, Al, Je, Ko, N and there is one more on the way. They range from ages 10 ½ to 6 months. We pray for all of them in the same manner, no matter what their biological and/or relational connection happens to be. All credit goes to Robin for keeping us connected with these other children.
 CBS is non-denominational and it is an awesome program for Bible study. I highly commend it.
 In 2007, after we married, Robin and I joined a church that was part of the Reformed Church in America. This was also the affiliation of WTS, although I was in the United Methodist Church when I began my studies.
 For the sake of privacy for our adult children and the grandchildren I'm just going to identify them all by letter.