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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Call

Miss Briggs was my first grade teacher in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  In those days reading bible stories in the public schools was permitted.  She would begin each day with a story from a book of bible stories for children. One of them was the story of Samuel's call in the Temple when he served the old priest Eli.  At that time Samuel was a young boy, and one night he was awakened three times by a voice calling his name.  The first two times he went to the old man to see why he had called.  But Eli denied having done so and sent the boy back to bed.  The third time it happened, however, Eli realized the call to Samuel was coming from God.  He instructed Samuel on what to say should he hear the call again.  He was to respond, "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  (This wording dates back to the version as I first heard it.)

Well, for some reason that story hit a chord with me.  I don't remember any of the other stories Miss Briggs read to us that year.  That afternoon after school I was playing in our great big (to me) back yard and thinking about the story.  I heard something that sounded like "Jean! Jean!"  and I immediately answered in what I had learned young Samuel said,  "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  But I soon realized it was the sound of a car going by somewhere in the neighborhood.  I kept listening.  Again, I heard what sounded like my name being called and gave the same response, "Speak Lord, for thy servant hears."  This time it was only tree branches rubbing against each other.  One more time I heard my name, and one more time I gave my answer, only to realize it was a shutter on the neighbor's house moving in the wind.  By that time I decided God wasn't going to call me that day, and soon the whole incident was forgotten. . . until I heard the story in my adult years.  It may have been during my Hebrew studies at Duke Divinity School.

So when I was ready at last to be ordained, one requirement at that time was to preach a sermon about my sense of call.  I preached to the congregation in Madison, where we were members. The example I worked with of course was that story Miss Briggs had read to us.   My brother Bill, who was with the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, came with his wife for the occasion.  He was known for his quick wit, and after the service he turned to me and said, "Jean, I was sitting there in the church and I heard, 'Jean!'  'Jean!'  and I looked around wondering if it was God, but I found out it was Miss Briggs."

Fortunately, the sermon met the requirements, and with the rest of the credentials necessary for ordination I was ordained September 7, 1980 at Hillview Chapel, a Presbyterian chapel under the care of First Presbyterian Church in Reidsville, NC.  I served there two years and then went on for a variety of ministries until my retirement in 1998.  Miss Briggs will remain in my roster of stories about ministry to remind me of the connection between the old old stories and the ones that still take place.

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