This time, our search for a church was a relatively short one, in terms of both distance and duration. We chose Christ United Methodist Church, a large church (for me, at least) of about 1500 members, in downtown Rochester. It is still our church home today. Pastor Liz Lopez was a primary reason for the choice. She was and is a dynamic lady who led our church and our family into new and exciting territory. Liz became the District Superintendent of the Twin Cities District within the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She proved to be a significant factor in my spiritual growth and direction. The most important contribution that Liz made to this growth was to get me to understand that lay people, those who are not ordained pastors, can be called and can be in ministry. In all my many years of significant participation in and around churches, this was a concept that I had never heard or at least understood in the way that Liz presented it. I had been stuck with the notion that only ordained clergy had ministries. Liz was setting the foundations that have gotten me to this wonderful place in my spiritual journey. I now know that God has called me into service. This web site and my willingness, as well as my ability, to proclaim to the world what God has done for me could not have occurred without Liz, her friendship, her ministry and her guidance. Thanks so much, Liz!
God soon sent even more change our way. Jan and I learned in April, 1999 that we would be parents. We were incredibly excited. In truth, I had given up on the idea of having a biological child. I had wanted children since the early days of my first marriage, but somewhere in my walk through the valley, I had decided that this experience was just not going to be part of my life. Boy, was I wrong! John Edmund Lage was born November 24, 1999. We had intended to name him John Elden Lage III but at the last moment decided to honor his other grandfather too, by including his first name as well. Jan’s father passed away 3 days short of a year before John was born.
Being a father has been an exciting, humbling and ever changing experience. We have been blessed with an energetic, loving, bright and wonderful child who has seemingly been blessed with leadership skills. He has been told this from a very young age and he certainly believes it. These skills will serve him well in the long run but sometimes it makes being his parent a challenge! There are days when I can only hope that it is true that God never gives us more than we can handle!
The dates that follow may not be precise but the events are told to my current recollection.
In about 2001, I believe, Pastor Liz asked me to join the Leadership Council for Christ United Methodist. I said yes and started to attend the meetings. I was asked to participate in a few activities such as a Gallop poll that was given to our church and many churches. Otherwise this was a pretty calm assignment. As my son, John, started to grow, so did his friendship with Pastor Liz. On many Sunday mornings, when the service ended, he could be found helping her to shake hands as the parishioners left the sanctuary.
I was honestly stunned in early 2003, when John Flanders, chair of the Leadership Council, approached me and asked if I would consider taking on the position of Leadership Council Chair/Lay leader for a three year stint. I almost gave him an immediate ‘no’. Before I could answer, he asked me to pray about it and told me I could get back to him in a week or two. I wanted to run and hide. I had never considered taking on such a position, especially in such a large church. I did pray about it and decided that I would handle the situation by going to inform Pastor Liz about who I was and who I had been. Surely she would take this whole decision out of my hands after hearing these things. I was nervous when I told her about the drinking, the four marriages and three divorces but she just listened and proceeded to tell me it didn’t matter. If I recall the conversation correctly, this was one of those times when Liz gave me a healthy dose of her “lay people can have ministries too” mantra. She said I should continue to pray about it. I did so and soon knew that this was what I was supposed to do next. Through the years, I have become more adept at recognizing these nudges from God. At the time, this was one of those key moments where I intentionally asked for guidance from God, as opposed to asking for specific help from God. I guess I’m trying to say I was actually listening and waiting for an answer that could go more than one way rather than just praying for one specific answer. Truthfully, God’s answer was not what I wanted it to be but it was obviously what God wanted it to be. I did listen, follow through and this too became aanother of those life changing event for me.
I took my resposibilities very seriously. I had no idea what I was doing when I began but God sent many helpers my way. At that time in our church, the Chair of this Council automatically became part of the Finance Committee, the Staff Parish Relations team and a couple of other teams as well as leading the Council itself. I stayed in the position for about 4.5 years. Our church faced a number of difficult issues during my tenure. These included:
- Lingering after affects from a series of misconducts occurring years before. These were still potential landmines that influenced important decisions.
- Recuurent and serious budgeting and money woes.
- Should our church remain a downtown church?
- An aging physical building requiring maintenance.
- Social justice issues such as homelessness and hunger.
- How to get more of our congregation involved and active in church life?
- Whether to continue to let a Montessori school utilize a significant percentage of our space.
- Changing pastoral leadership.
I’m not saying that the issues we faced were much different than what any church faces but each required time, planning and action of some sort. I learned a great deal concerning leadership of volunteers, became more dedicated in my prayer habits, and most importantly got to know and work with many of the people who made up the church. The sheer number of people it takes to make an organization of this size and complexity continue to be an active and vibrant church, is amazing.
I’m not going to dwell on the many of the specifics of my council leadership period but I am going to relate a couple of stories that bring me satisfaction and/or play a role in this spiritual journey of mine.
Pastor John Darlington had taken as Lead Pastor midyear in 2005, I think. He brought many skills and talents to our church, not the least of which was taking a prominent role in social justice and community involvement. Our church became aware that the Muslim community in Rochester would be building a new mosque. The Muslims required a place to worship while their facility was being built. I’m very proud to tell you that our church offered to let the Muslims use our facility. They eventually decided not to do so but I believe it was incredibly important that we made the offer.
The second event was my first opportunity to give a sermon. As chair of the Leadership Council, it was my responsibility to arrange the Sunday service on Laity Sunday. I went looking for someone to give the sermon. I’ll bet you can guess how that turned out. I finally gave in and decided that I would give the message. I knew just what I wanted it to be about but everytime I went to write it down, it just wouldn’t happen. I finally gave up and asked God to tell me what to say. I wrote the entire sermon in about an hour outside a Boundary Waters Canoe Outfitter while my canoeing partner waited patiently for me to finish so we could start in on our wilderness adventure. This was also my first opportunity to stand in front of hunreds of people and share the story of my journey up to that time. It was a nervous time for me but God answered my prayers and helped me to successfully tell my tale. The congregation was very supportive. That first telling of my story in public has helped me develop the ability to stand up and tell people where I’ve been. I have continued to tell my story and testify to God’s involvement in my life.
2005 also brought another change to my spiritual life. I started to meet monthly with a spiritual director, Ken Bauman. Ken is also a member of Christ UMC, and has performed in many leadership capacities within the church. He is a certified spiritual director and has been another of the key spiritual companions that God has placed in my path. Our meetings are filled with discussions of my spiritual habits, God, assignments between sessions, recommended readings and suggestions for improvements. I can definitely tell you that my spiritual life has grown in depth and breadth since this time and Ken has played a significant role in these changes and still does yet today.