It was 4:30 on a Sunday morning in May 2005. I was snuggly in bed when I woke up suddenly. There wasn’t anything that struck me as having woken me up – there was no cat on the bed and the room was silent. Then the vision came.
All throughout Divinity school, I’d concentrated on ministering to those connected to the military but who may not come under the care of the base chaplain. For a brief period, I’d even entertained the thought of enlisting in the military as a chaplain, but becoming a mom redirected my thinking there. Anyway, those who are connected with the military but who the base chaplains don’t serve include boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, and parents. As I explored this ministry farther, I learned from a chaplain at Camp Lejeune that there was often a three-day wait for personnel to be seen by a chaplain, and in the military, nothing is exactly confidential. So, by establishing a ministry that would include troops as well, I could provide a truly confidential place for them to get help (with the exceptions covered by standard health and medical care codes of ethics).
So here I was in the dark hours of a Sunday morning, two weeks after having received my degree. And it happened. I don’t usually get visions (this was the first), and in fact I’d always thought that they happened to someone else, never to me. This made me sit up (figuratively – remember, snuggly in bed?) and take notice.
God expanded the original vision to me. Not only would I be ministering with those connected to the military and personnel and their dependents, but I would be ministering in the community at large. It looked something like this:
There are so many people who are unchurched or who may not be comfortable going to their pastor about an issue they have, likely out of fear of judgment or lack of trust. There are counselors, of course, but there still remains the stigma of, if you’re going to a therapist, you must be crazy. So, they need spiritual care but aren’t sure where to find it. My ministry would fit that need. [Before the vision, we had experienced a pastor completely ignoring a crisis we were in at that time in our lives and following his own agenda. Since this vision, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a pastor revealing something shared in confidence – closed door, “this is just like CPE*” (his words) – with about 20-30 other people. Yikes!!!] So, it’s easy to see how important trust is in the pastor/parishioner relationship.
The Crystal Coast area sees a swelling of population each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with slight tapers on each end of that into the spring and late summer/early fall before dwindling down to just locals through the grey winter months. Campgrounds, hotels, condominium towers, villas and a resort or two dot the landscape from Beaufort to Swansboro. Crap happens on even the best vacation (forget Shark Week; we’ve had Shark Month!), and crises happen. They can happen to people of any faith, not just bi-traditional Christians. Another element of this ministry will be providing crisis care to those folks, supported by a network of clergy from other faiths and traditions who can step in if their particular flavor of care is needed. This could also include those who wish to be married on their vacation.
Worship is a huge part of life for many people, but come Sunday morning when they’re staring at that check-out deadline, it seems wrong to sacrifice another hour or two in the sun for church when the grind awaits their return when they get home. I know I don’t make any effort to go to church when I’m vacationing at the beach, though I do miss the experience of communal worship. A fourth aspect of this ministry would be brief worship services on the beach, come as you are. We’re talking 20 minutes-brief, because we don’t want to be annoying, and if all you’re wearing is 3 triangles of material connected by strings or something brief by Speedo that shows off your hairy chest and your love of fried chicken, that’s okay. We’re more about what’s inside than outside.
God gave me a name for this ministry – Crystal Coast Ministries. And a logo even. And a partner who may, unfortunately, be ready to retire by the time this all comes to fruition but who willingly embraced the vision and commented how much his wife and he love the area.
I was awed and humbled by this vision. It nestled in my heart where it stayed through breakfast and dressing for church and getting my daughter ready for church. After church, lunch, and getting a certain sweet little girl down for nap, I shared the vision with my husband. He was (and still is) completely on board with it. He suggested Christian deep sea fishing trips. Maybe we could borrow a boat and get Marine Biology students from UNCW, Duke, or UNC to help serve as mates. We’d be available to talk to them about whatever, simply sharing God’s love with them.
As I pondered this originally, I wanted our choir from Yates, our Durham church, to come down occasionally and help lead worship. I’d still love that. They’re a tremendous group of singers and worship leaders under the direction and guidance of a fabulous music minister, and they would certainly bless everyone who heard them.
A part of me could think it’s amazing that the vision is still so clear ten years, a move, and another child later. But really, it’s not amazing at all. God gave me this vision, and it has lain dormant in my spirit, heart, and mind for all this time, just waiting to be reawakened. The time has come and is coming. There are steps I must take in order to prepare myself, and that process has already begun. I am excited but also a little scared, and I think those two emotions are perfectly appropriate. We should all get excited about ministry, but we should also feel a little bit scared, because that will keep us on our toes and prevent us from getting cocky behind the stole.
*CPE is Clinical Pastoral Education, which is training for chaplains and those who will provide pastoral care to people. The first rule for the training group is keeping confidentiality.