We look forward to deepening our faith as a family and coming to a better understanding of our purpose in life.
My name is Ian, I started my journey in December of 1983 in Atlanta Georgia. My family moved around a bit when I was very young, but I consider home to be a small town in North Carolina called Tryon. This is where I went elementary, middle, and high school and is also where my family started attending the Episcopal Church. I was active in church, diocesan youth events and summer camps, sports and outdoor activities throughout my grade school years. I became fascinated with the Episcopal Church and one’s faith journey as a young teen, actively learning about theology, spirituality, Episcopal doctrine, and other faith traditions. I went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and received a degree in History. This turned out to be a difficult time for me. I struggled with purpose and direction while in college and at times in order to be able to afford to live and attend school I also had to work nearly 40 hours/week and as a result my grades suffered. I lacked the maturity at the time to excel in that academic situation; however, I persevered and have come to the understanding that my path would not be the type of path where a person has one career for all of their lives. My vocational path took me in many different directions to many different places, having a multitude of experiences and meeting all sorts of different people. It is interesting to look back on all of the jobs I have had; pizza cook/delivery driver, lifeguard, server, camp counselor, alumni call center (I am eternally sorry to all of the people I called right at supper time asking for money), climbing/backpacking/fly fishing instructor, science instructor, church youth leader, camp director, construction worker, nonprofit director, crisis ministry site coordinator, and a partridge in a pear tree. I joke that all of these jobs were in preparation to become a priest because I will never run out of stories to use in sermons. Truly, though, the various experiences throughout my life have given me a pretty broad perspective on people, society, and life.
My spiritual journey has felt very much like the path one takes while walking a labyrinth. God has been at the center of my walk and yet I have felt close and far from God at various points seemingly in the course of one metaphorical, and sometimes literal, step. Like many of the most important journeys in life, my walk started when I was a child. I was not baptized at birth like many Christian children are. Making my own decisions about deeply personal matters has, and is, a paramount right within our family. I decided at age six that I wanted to be baptized, and it was in front of our Presbyterian congregation in Midway, Kentucky, that I took my first conscientious step into a Christian life. I realize that at such an age I was likely bowing to the expectations of my family, friends, and neighbors; however, the ability to decide for myself has stayed with me the rest of my life. When walking a labyrinth, we choose to put one foot in front of the other, no one can make this choice for us.
As I grew into adolescence and young adulthood, my faith was deeply shaped by the experience of community and unconditional love that I found at Camp Henry and Diocesan Youth Events. I made friends with young Episcopalians from all over our Diocese and beyond, and we explored our growing faiths together. We asked questions and listened to one another, and we learned to recognize God’s presence in our evolving world. In a safe and loving place we learned to laugh, sing, cry, listen, speak, dance, play, pray, and be in community. My walk seemed to take me very close to the center at this point.
During college and my early twenties, my path seemed to wind away from God. I questioned everything. I dealt with anger and doubt. I had trouble reconciling faith and science, and yet I always knew that over my shoulder remained the constant that God was present as I walked. I can remember being somewhat aggressive with friends who identified as Christian, challenging them on why they chose to believe in something that couldn’t seemingly be explained by science, why they believed in a God who would “allow” so much suffering in a world that It so loved. As I am writing this and have the ability to look back, I realize that I was asking myself those questions, and that the fervor of my questions was a direct reflection on how badly I needed the answer for myself. I was walking away from the center, and I believe that the fear that was associated with that part of the journey was a necessary, albeit a spiritually dark time.
At the end of 2009 I had recently moved back across the country from California to North Carolina. I had worked at Camp Henry that summer which had reawakened some of the spiritual peace that I had found there in the past. I was, however, still struggling with my faith. I had spent the summer of 2009 leading backpacking trips at Camp Henry, which had given me ample time to think, pray, and discuss the matters of the soul with some amazing youth and young adults. After the summer I continued to journey. I spent a few months traveling in the west, hiking, climbing, and seeing some of the most incredible sites in the US; yet, I was personally and emotionally in a difficult place. It was at that time when I felt broken that I was able to reach out to God in prayer once more. I remember being on my parents back porch and receiving a call from an old priest friend of mine who out of the blue decided to reach out to me to ask if I might consider moving far away from my home in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where I felt most comfortable, to work in his church on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. I had been praying about what I should do next, where I was being called and what would I do there. I decided to listen this time, and to act. It was definitely not an easy year; however, I grew closer, or more appropriately, more acutely aware of a closeness with God. This was a seminal moment in my spiritual development. Since that time a discipline that I have tried to live by is; pray, listen, hear, interpret, think, pray, ask, then act.
In 2010, I was asked if I would consider being the next Director of Camp Henry. This was a pretty big deal for me… an unscientific study that I just did in my head confirms that I was the first person to be fired from a Christian summer camp (I was fired from Camp Henry at the age of 18, a story for another day), re-hired the following year (perhaps one of the first and greatest personal lessons of Christian love, forgiveness, and redemption in my life), and then eventually becoming the Director of said Christian summer camp.
Over the next six years I grew at a rate that I had not yet experienced. Being at Camp Henry has been a blessing for so many thousands of people and words cannot give proper justice to the impact that holy “place” has on a person’s life. I had the opportunity to laugh, sing, cry, listen, speak, dance, play, pray, and be in community with some of God’s greatest disciples. I witnessed Christ on a daily basis. I felt the Holy Spirit moving through space, bodies, and souls. I was given the opportunity to teach and thus learn. I also reconnected with the woman I have always loved; we got married and started a family. I knew at a certain point that it was time to look forward again. During my last year or so as Camp Henry Director (and being the Youth Missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of WNC), I began to realize that if my calling in life was to serve God by helping people and serving others I would need to grow. I needed to challenge myself and work with other populations. Working with children and youth for over a decade had given me passion and energy, and it was time to take that passion and energy and use it elsewhere.
I currently serve as the Site Coordinator (only paid person) at the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries Hominy Valley Crisis Ministry Site. We provide food, clothing, household items, and financial assistance to people in crisis situations. It is my responsibility to recruit, train, and support our volunteers, coordinate with the various churches and comities who support our mission, sustain sufficient supplies to meet the needs of our guests, and to maintain a clean and welcoming site/grounds. This has been at the same time the best and hardest job I have ever had. Listening to extremely difficult stories is spiritually and emotionally taxing. Counseling folks in such dire situations has pushed me to maintain my spiritual, emotional, and physical health like nothing I have ever done before. Again, I love my job, however I have a deep conviction that my calling as a follower of Jesus is to serve as an Episcopal priest. I lead daily devotionals and discussion with volunteers and guests and have come to the realization that that short period of time each day is as life giving as all of the counseling and day to day duties that I am required to do. The devotional and discussion accounts for a small fraction of my day, perhaps 5%. I need to know how fulfilling and impactful it would be to lead people in prayer, worship, and study with something closer to that other 95% of my day. This is how I have come to the place in my journey where I hope to attend seminary and become an Episcopal priest.
I truly believe that we are all part of God’s one body, and I hope to serve all of His children. With that being said, I think that the lessons I have learned and skills I have developed over the course of my life will enable me to be an effective shepherd for the outcast, disenfranchised, poor, sick, hungry, and lonely of God’s people. I hope to be able to serve in a church which exemplifies Jesus’s call to serve the “least of these” in their mission and outreach or to possibly serve in a bi-vocational role working for a church and working for an organization similar to where I currently serve. I am interested in learning how a strong theological foundation can shape the type and effectiveness of our mission. What has worked/is working, what is still needed, and how an educated and prepared priest can guide a church’s sense of mission are also questions that I hope to explore at seminary. I hope to continue to provide care and grace to underserved populations while in seminary as this has become a critical piece of who I am.
I know that I am in for perhaps the most challenging three years of my life. It has been quite some time since I have been in an academic setting, and I am aware that seminary is extremely rigorous even for folks who are used to being in such a setting. I am sure that my understanding of my own faith will be stretched and challenged in an incredible way and I pray that I am up to the challenges that I face going forward.
My wife, Sallie, and I have spoken at length about how being in seminary with our two children, Nora (4) and Greyson (2), will be very different than the life we have become accustomed to. We live almost paycheck to paycheck like so many other people; yet, we are relatively comfortable. This will likely be very different while we are in school. Living a more frugal and meager lifestyle will help us learn to engage and rely more on our community and trust that through our faith and hard work, God will provide the sustenance that we need. Our family loves adventure, we love meeting new people in new places and experiencing new things. We relish challenges and accomplishing goals together. I look forward to studying and being in community with other people who have similar callings and questions that I do. We look forward to deepening our faith as a family and coming to a better understanding of our purpose in life. We are excited to be on this walk of faith.
& The Art of a Handwritten Note
Photography by Sallie Hart Williams
I have enjoyed capturing moments on film since a black and white photography class I took in high school and I continue to look at the world through a lens. Hydrangeas change from bold pinks to purples to classic blues based on the soil. Sunflowers are an anchor in a garden the way they bend to the sun, especially when planted in long skinny rows along the Biltmore Estate fields. Trees and forests offer so many universal lessons for life. Collecting leaves in the fall and observing the vivid burst of color moving across the blue ridge mountains in the fall is enough to trigger timeless childhood memories. Evergreens and berries provide the comfort of nature during the holidays. The stillness of a gentle snowfall or the intimacy of the rain on a tin roof remind us of the cycle of life through the ever-changing seasons.
I grew up appreciating snail mail and designing my own cards for graduations, birthdays and invitations for celebrations. My mother always joked that Hallmark was going to hire me one day. Maybe it was because she sent more birthday cards than anyone I’ve ever known. She would take us to the Hallmark store in the mall on a regular basis to see who could find the funniest cards and have a good laugh. She always knew who had a birthday coming up so she would buy the best ones, with an extra to have on hand. In the days before social media blasted birthday reminders, she would transfer a year of birthdays each January into the new wall calendar we religiously gave her at Christmas. She would send funny cards with handwritten notes, make phone calls or just simply remember the day each of those people were born.
The root of a handwritten note is a practice in gratitude. It is an opportunity to savor a moment, an intentional way to honor and appreciate a person or an action. It feels good to write a thoughtful note by hand, and a kind gesture to receive. While phone calls and emails are excellent ways to stay in touch, sending thoughtful handwritten notes speak to a depth of connection in the relationships we have with each other. Actions speak louder than words. My hope is that these cards, and their personal messages, bring joy and the essence of an embrace.