When I was 6 or 7, I wrote a personal testimony of faith:
As of this past April, now age 43, I am a licensed pastor in The Wesleyan Church.
The process wasn’t that difficult. I started it late last summer, when I casually asked Chris Snider, the pastor of my church, about the ordination process. He got me in contact with some key district leaders, and all of a sudden, I was caught up in the momentum. It just started happening. Which made me laugh a bit, because it is a lot like so much in life. Things take a long time to start, but when they do? Whoosh!
My actual professional training (MDiv ’02) is in ministry (an MDiv is a 3 year professional ministry degree). Much of my work experience is connected to ministry. My PhD dissertation (PhD Theology ’13) was on Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding of church in conversation with missional church writings. And I teach ministers or soon-to-be ministers for a living. Getting ordained wasn’t part of the story up until recently, however. I’m not sure why. God had me on other paths and when I finished seminary I was pretty burned out with the thought of ministry. Which had nothing to do with what I learned, and nothing to do with the ministry work itself, it had everything to do with my frustrations about church politics. I’ve not had a lot of success with leaders in my life. I didn’t like the idea of being a vocational pastor, even though that was my professional training. Quite a quandary. God wasn’t finished with me yet.
A winding road later, here I am, moved to Sacramento in summer 2015, began attending a church that is in our community (that was my priority) not long after, and it happened to be a Wesleyan Church. We attended a Nazarene Church when we got married and up to moving. Before that I was variously non-denominational, Conservative Baptist (with a Gen-X flair), Foursquare, Conservative Baptist (with no flair), Assemblies of God. Before all that, I was Wesleyan.
My family history going back generations has mixed religious roots, but there’s Methodist in there, though they left the Methodists when it became too liberal, roundabout the late 19th century.
I started reading Wesley’s writing in college, in a junior year Christian ethics class. His theology and passion clicked with me in a way that few others had up to that point. Indeed, my encounter with the Ante-Nicene Fathers my sophomore year and my re-discovery of Wesley in my junior year radically changed my understanding of Christianity, the Christian life, and my own self in this world.
To be licensed, I had to take one class on Wesleyan Church history and discipline (while teaching a Wesleyan theology class for Fuller at the same time, oddly enough). I had to talk to some folks, fill out some paperwork. I also formalized my participation at my church, becoming an assistant pastor (unpaid) of Christian formation (eternal pay), which teaching, doing some online writing, and occasionally preaching.
In getting licensed I’m acknowledging the journey I’ve been on, and while I still bristle a bit at the title ‘pastor’, I know that God has clearly led me in ways that keeps me on that path. My role as a theologian teaching in a seminary and my volunteer work at my church teaching and preaching are what I do, so I might as well embrace it.
Becoming licensed is a bit like a second (or third) baptism for me. It’s a public acknowledgment of my confession of Christ as lord, and all that entails.
I’m owning my story, and what Christ is doing in my life.
What Christ did in my life, from a very early age, involved the Wesleyan Church.
I remember sitting outside of San Dimas Wesleyan Church during an Easter service in 1979, when I was four, repeating the words of the pastor to accept Jesus into my heart.
I don’t have a picture of that, except in my mind, but I remember it so clearly.
I became a (junior) member of that church the next year.
I was baptized at that church (or at least a nearby swimming pool) in 1980, when I was five. I have evidence of that:
Here’s me (in the middle) with Pastor George Jenewein (who preached that Easter sermon and baptized me) and my friend Brandon (who I don’t remember at all).
That’s a long time ago (just look at the shirts in the picture), but things have come just about full circle, at least in terms of denomination. A lot has changed, but there’s been a clear trajectory from that time to now. And things I thought I left behind have come back into the scene.
Very interesting to see what comes next. Very interesting to see what God takes from the past and makes new.
Indeed, even my testimony isn’t much different after all these years.
Before moving to Sacramento, Amy and I lived in the house right next door to the address listed on my baptism certificate (which my family moved from in late 1980).
I’m back involved in a Wesleyan Church. I have pretty much kept the same fashion look (just with shorter hair).
I’ll just have to update a couple of things in my testimony, but even it is mostly the same:
My name is Patrick Oden. I am teaching at a seminary. Jesus became my savior when I was 4 years old. I love Jesus.