Back in the U.S.

I went to New Zealand hoping, I guess, to "find myself", or at least figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and what I really believed about Christianity. I didn't leave disappointed from that perspective when we returned to the US in 2005, but it was difficult to come back home. New Zealand was a life-shaping experience, and Dunedin genuinely felt like home after two years. Spiritually, it was really the place where I became comfortable with my faith, theology, and calling, after such a significant period of uncertainty before we left. I also was a bit worried about whether or not I would find a fit in the American Episcopal Church, of which I had no prior experience, and which I had heard was generally more "high church and liberal" than the New Zealand Church.

I would be lying if I said that the transition over the last year has been easier than I had hoped: it has in fact been difficult—though not necessarily bad—for reasons that I didn't anticipate. From one angle, there have been vocational frustrations—I returned to the US convinced that I would like to pursue ordination, but have found that the process of discernment here is both longer and more complicated than the one to which I was introduced in New Zealand (made difficult, not least, by the understandable requirement that I should be confirmed prior to formally beginning the process!). Additionally, I came back ready and motivated to continue my professional work in ministry, but was unable to find a paid position during my first year in Seattle. (This of course contributed to my frustration in learning about the length of the discernment process!) Finally, my wife and I both initially found the Episcopal community in Seattle significantly less accessible for two twenty-six year olds than had been our previous community in Dunedin.

More positively though, my time in the Episcopal Church has also been a real time of challenge and growth. Toward the end of my time in New Zealand, the question of the role of the GLBT community within the church became important to me, as I gradually became convinced that homosexual behavior should not be condemned by Christians as universally sinful. (This was in fact a significant and (now) embarrassingly difficult transition for me, and one which will likely be met with considerable disapproval from some of my closest friends and family). In Seattle, I joined a church whose staff and congregation is probably as sexually diverse as any in the world, and have had the privilege of doing something which I had never done before—coming to know multiple persons who are both openly Christian and openly not straight. This has, I think, made personal my previously academic understanding of the need for an inclusive church, and has opened my eyes to the spiritual damage that has been caused by the church in its historic exclusion and condemnation of the GLBT community.

In Seattle, I have also finally become acquainted personally with the AIDS Crisis through work with the organization Multifaithworks, which provides volunteer support to victims of HIV/AIDS and their families. I certainly can't describe this as a positive experience—it has been heartbreaking, to be honest. However, I have been privileged to become friends with an extremely intelligent and interesting sufferer of AIDS, and have hence come to understand the cruel and personally devastating nature of this disease. However, because this person—our group's "carepartner"—is also inspiringly resilient and positive, I have also experienced this work as a surprising source of hope that the AIDS crisis is not insurmountable. From a pastoral perspective, this work has represented one of my first real experiences with terminal illness, and has taught me that hope and despair will inevitably be interwoven in these situations—dying is, paradoxically, primarily about living.
There have been other, less significant, happy experiences in Seattle as well. Attendance at our diocesan cathedral has deepened the appreciation of "high church" liturgical worship which I began to develop in New Zealand. Further, acquaintance with the "Emerging Church" movement here has helped me to realize that my generally uncertain feelings towards questions of faith are not that uncommon in the Church, and that there are other Episcopalians in their 20's and 30's. Additionally, I have also finally found work in ministry, beginning a half-time youth ministry position at St. Margaret's, Bellevue just recently.

My time in New Zealand seemed to me like a transition from one spiritual path—started in childhood—to another significantly different one. In Seattle, I feel like I have begun to learn what it might mean for me to move down that new path. In some ways, my experience here has been difficult, but it has generally been free of the spiritual cognitive dissonance that plagued me from the end of college through my early time abroad. I feel like I've become comfortable with my call to ministry, my generally open-minded approach to spiritual questions, and my place within the Anglican Communion. I am genuinely looking forward to the formal process of discernment for ordination, and am confident that I will, with God's help, find an appropriate place of ministry within the church.