Academy class opens new opportunities and perspective on faith
BY RUSSELL HULTGREN
As part of the Discipleship Academy, the Revs. Vicky Starnes and Cynthia Moore recently led a course on Serving from the Heart. The class explored discovering one’s spiritual gifts. Learn more about the content of the class in an article by Starnes here.
When I started attending the United Methodist church last year, I made a promise to myself and the Lord. I vowed to untether myself from preconceptions and expectations and to let the Holy Spirit guide me down the river of life, wherever it led.
I swore that every time the Spirit prompted me to do something, I’d do it - without excuses or grumbling, unmoored from the I’ll-get-to-it-later mindset.
Keeping this promise has led to a marvelous, liberating spiritual journey. I’ve been on a mission trip to Belize, gotten baptized, served as part of Winter Relief, taken Disciple I, and helped start a Covenant Disciple Group. All these experiences reintroduced me to the triune God in a mighty way, but they didn’t lead me to feel called to serve in the church. For that it took “Serving from the Heart,” the capstone of the year since my baptism.
Weeks of online study about the gifts of the Spirit culminated in a day-and-a-half’s training at Conference Mission Center. There I met Vicky Starnes and Cynthia Moore, the course instructors, together with the other members of the class. Over the course of a Friday evening and a Saturday, we plumbed the Scriptures and worked in small groups to determine our STRIDE-Spiritual gifts, Talents, Resources, Individual style, Dreams, and Experiences-in preparation to enter a covenant to minister in the Kingdom of God.
The second day of instruction ended with covenant-making, Communion, and a prayer circle. We were all invited to share what the Spirit had impressed upon us as our ministry. When my turn came, I blurted out something that had been building up in me with the force of a thunderhead all weekend: “I want to be a circuit rider! In Latin America!”
The circle fell silent. Then Pastor Vicky said: “Waitasecond! You speak Spanish?” I told her that not only do I speak Spanish, I also teach it at Anne Arundel Community College. She said: “There’s a church in Annapolis that could use your help. We need to talk right after the prayer.” I told her I’d be glad to.
We joined hands and bowed heads. As we did so, the Holy Spirit descended on me like liquid fire. Starting at the crown of my head and pouring through me to the soles of my feet, it ignited my heart and enlightened my mind. It confirmed and convicted me of God's call to serve the unsaved Spanish-speaking population in the Annapolis area. I told Pastor Vicky about this experience and we set to work immediately.
Today, just over a month after the Holy Spirit’s call, I’m serving as a lay missioner at both Eastport UMC and Trinity UMC. I’m working to organize Spanish-language services and programs in order to reach out to God’s children from Latin America in our midst. I now have my calling to serve in the church. With God’s help, I’ve discovered the outlet God’s chosen for my gifts, talents, experiences and dreams. None of this would’ve been possible without my participation in “Serving from the Heart.” I praise God every day for this course. It’s changed my life. Words are weak vessels for the strength of my conviction that everyone should take it.
Russell Hultgren is a member of Severna Park UMC in Severna Park.