I remember as a small child thinking about what I wanted to do when I was an adult. Growing up in the military was a bit peculiar in this regard. Everybody was a soldier, but I was not altogether certain what anyone “did.” Even as a teenager, I was not sure what the soldiers did “vocationally.” One of my close friend’s dad was a three star general. His rank certainly impressed me, but I had no idea what he did (A few years later, General Dougherty became the eighth commander of the Strategic Air Command–I knew what he did then). Since being a soldier seemed too generic, I considered the classes I liked the best as my guide. During this time, I was wandering around Germany, experiencing both the theological environment of the Protestant Reformation and the horror of the reality of the Nazi regime (images of Dachau are burned in my mind–the iron sign “Arbeit macht Frei” over the entry gate forever reminds me of our capacity inhumanity). I always felt a gnawing in me, a calling to something I did not understand. Standing in the mountains of the Baden state of Germany, I stood in awe at the magnificence of creation. Something was stirring in me, but I had no context or models for understanding what these feelings were or what this calling might be. Oddly, it was through my pursuit of the sciences that I became more and more aware of the contributions of the religious to the history of science. Oddly, it was in graduate school for immunopathology that I found myself drawn more and more into my faith and a realization of what the strange feelings and calling I had experience years earlier were about. Finally, I knew what I was called to be; I just had no idea how to follow the calling. Luckily for me, some wonderful and faithful clergy of the church understood what was going on and became my guides as I fumbled along the way to become a priest.
This past Sunday, the First Sunday after Christmas, we had a wonderful albeit quiet and simple service. All the staff but me was on break (I am off the Second Sunday after Christmas). We read the lessons, we said the prayers, I preached, and we shared the Eucharist. After a magnificent Christmas cycle of services, it was great to have such a simple service. I enjoyed greeting all who were there and having time to chat and visit with all as they were leaving. One of the very young children of the parish sought me out. “Father Stan, Father Stan!” she shouted. I turned and knelt down to see why she was so excited. I really expected she was going to show me one of her new dolls or toys. “What?” I asked. “Father Stan, I know what I want to be when I grow up.” At first I did not grasp what she was saying; I was still expecting something like, “Look at my new doll!” “I know what I want to be when I grow up,” she repeated. Finally, I realized what she was saying. “Well,” I replied, “What do you want to be?” “I want to be a mommy and a priest!” she declared with firm certainty.
It is far too soon to hold a pre-kindergartener accountable to vocational choices made so early. However, it felt good, as I drove home reflecting on this exchange, to know my ordained colleagues and I offered this young girl an experience of our vocations that inspired her at this early age to consider it a vocation worthy her imagination and consideration. Even more, the juxtaposition of “mommy” and “priest” seemed just right for the season!