By Noah Stansbury
Before 2013 had quite come to an end, I had 2014 all worked out. I had just finished pulling together my application to Episcopal Service Corps and clicked “submit”. It was out of my hands, off into the world. I’d wait to see who offered interviews and before long I’d have a plan in place for August. After a few years of working in customer service, I was ready to move on with my life and put in some time figuring out my ministry.
A few interviews were scheduled, Servant Year among them, but I didn’t know that much about the program and my sights were set elsewhere. On top of it, I didn’t feel like my first interview with Servant Year went that well, so I prepared to write it off and narrow the field down. I was taken aback when at the end of the call, Lindsay suggested I talk to the director of St. James School about an immediate opening they had. It was unexpected, and I had never envisioned myself working in a school, but why not? In any discernment process, it seems foolish to say no when you can say yes. Less than a week later I was accepting the job and preparing to uproot my life and move to Philadelphia, sight unseen. I didn’t know what had just happened, but I had boarded the train and was along for the ride.
I don’t put a lot of stock in making big choices based on gut feeling. Approaching things with calm and rationally is the preferred method of doing these things, right? Keep everything in order, logical, and sanitized and you’ll arrive at the right conclusion. It’s science. But the way God comes to us unbidden, that thing we call “grace,” is messy, often ill-timed, invasive, and above all hard to ignore. It rarely shows up in ways we expect or prefer, but if you’re paying attention, you know it when you hear it. And if you heed that call -- like Abraham and Sarah, like David, like Mary and Joseph and Peter and Matthew, like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King -- it will change everything and it’s going to be uncomfortable.
As I talked with the head of school, I had an unmistakable sense of the school’s role as an oasis in a desert of poverty, crime, and violence; an inbreaking of the reign of God in a place that desperately needed it. After that phone call, I found myself giving serious consideration to a job in a field in which I had no pre-existing interest, at a place I had never heard of, in a city I had never visited. It was weird. I kept vacillating between, “Oh my god, this is incredible and exactly what I’ve been looking for,” and, “Oh my god, this is insane; what are you doing?”
“God, make me good, but not yet,” goes the saying. Transform me, but wait until I say I’m ready. We look for God to show up, and then we’re surprised when it happens. This is, in itself, entirely unsurprising. God’s work in the world involves human effort, but it can’t be predicated on it. I’ve been thinking about doing a service year for a long time, but in those periods after I found an excuse to put it off again, I can see the ways in which I was being prepared, even when I didn’t realize it. And then wham. “You don’t feel ready, but this is it. It’s time. Go.” That’s the beauty of grace: sometimes it’s quiet and mundane and hard to grasp, and sometimes it really does arrive in your world with all the subtlety of a train.
Noah’s ministry placement is at St. James School as Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator.