Spiritual Gifts Don't Exist in a Vacuum

Pentecost A

Jesus ascended into the clouds not so long ago. Before he did, he told us that the Holy Spirit would soon come to empower us that we would be witnesses to the whole world. Then came the Holy Spirit, in all of its confusing, slobbery glory, enabling us to speak in different tongues in order to spread the good news beyond our circle, beyond our community, beyond our tribe, beyond our religious group, and even beyond that. This Holy Spirit gives us a variety of gifts, but remember that though there is variety to the gifts and services, we’re talking about the same Spirit and the same God. We all possess—or rather, are stewards of—different combinations of these gifts. The gifts might include communicating wisdom or knowledge, having faith, being able to heal, work miracles, or prophecy, or discerning the presence of spirits or other languages.

Basically, these gifts include any number of skills, talents, or affinities that involve connecting and relating with each other…and they are all under the umbrella of God’s powerful love/loving power.

This is a summary of the events of the Book of Acts’ chapters one and two as well as Paul’s discourse in his second letter to the church in Corinth about spiritual gifts. On a celebration of this day (of the liturgical calendar) six years ago, immediately after hearing these readings along with a homily by the Rev’d Dr. Canon Marda Steedman Sanborn (I think I got that order correct), I began the discernment process for the priesthood.

The portion of the service following the homily was a bit like what our more evangelical, Pentecostal, etc. brothers and sisters might describe as an “altar call.” Instead of a call to “come down (to the altar) and dedicate your life to Jesus right now,” Marda, along with then-Bishop Suffragan Nedi Rivera and two others invited our group of 80-100 high schoolers and adult chaperones at the week-long summer camp to affirm our own spiritual gifts and seek blessing for them. A new combination of people would walk down for each gift, receiving the mark of the cross on their forehead and having in their hearts and minds a sense of call to use those gifts for the betterment of their brothers and sisters.

It took awhile, but it was a joy-filled experience. Many of the high schoolers began pointing at each other saying, “Oh so-and-so, you definitely have that gift!”

Then after we had gone through all of the gifts, Nedi asked if any of us had sensed in any way that we might be called/situated/gifted for ordained ministry.

Just then, a light bulb went on in my head.

Before that moment, I had never imagined that I was called to ordained ministry. I enjoyed the work I did with these youth conferences, a youth group, and the church I attended in college. I was growing curious as to why I spent so much of my time and energy around spiritual matters and spiritual communities and places with spiritual foci. But I never not once ever before that had considered ordained ministry.

Hearing that invitation, the light bulb flickered on and I walked down to be blessed for this sense of calling.

Now calm down…I don’t possess or experience a kind of magic that you don’t. Fairy dust didn’t sprinkle in my pathway after this moment at camp; I don’t remember if I even had goose bumps on my neck. While I would says that the “sense of calling” was more than merely intellectual, the general direction in which this event pointed me just seemed and felt sort of natural; the specifics, however, have been fraught with sleepless nights, time-consuming prayer, and my own doubts and questions about my gifts, the ordination process, and my ability to do what is expected of priests.

I was lucky enough to have some wonderful people who affirmed and supported my sense of calling, without whom I may not have made it.

And I think that is sort of the point. Spiritual gifts don’t exist or thrive in a vacuum; they are revealed in community, just as our group’s gifts were revealed that day at camp. Sometimes spiritual gifts exist in a very subtle way—sometimes we just don’t realize that we’re using a spiritual gift until someone points it out to us. And that is sometimes the point because the nature of these gifts is that they exist in our way of being sometimes quite naturally.

It is possible, however, to under-utilize our gifts. At St. James’s, we occasionally have spiritual gifts workshops to identify and discuss these gifts of the spirit in community. I encourage you to search for and identify yours and to name before others the gifts you notice in their presence.

And finally, I’ll invite you the way Nedi did for me…if you have in the past, are currently, or ever imagine that you might be gifted with a sense of call to ordained ministry of any kind, share that sense with someone. And because ordination processes can be challenging to navigate alone, find me or another clergy person to get that conversation started.

Of course all Baptized Christians have already been ordained for the work of the church community. As ones who have been ceremonially and ontologically set apart to proclaim the good news through word and deed, we are all ordained with a purpose, and commissioned with precious gifts to carry out that purpose in our lives.

The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is BowingToMystery.com.