Discerning God's call: Doing what she loves

The Rev. Ruth Marston, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Olympia, Washington, grew up in Puyallup (Washington) United Methodist Church. She was baptized there and attended with her mother and three siblings.

Connecting with people her own age as well as the ages of her parents and grandparents, she found, "Church was the place where I was my best self, outgoing instead of shy, generous and patient." 

Marston was 12 when her "burning bush" moment came. It was on the morning she attended worship by herself for the first time.

As the music of the first hymn swelled, she said, "The light changed. Next to me was a family friend who was singing along with the hymn, which was slightly surprising because he had passed away the year before. I felt that I was surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. I heard the words, or felt them, as every piece of me vibrated with them, 'Feed my sheep.' 

"And with all the eloquence I could muster at the time I responded in my heart with 'Uhhh, what?' 

"'Feed my sheep,' I heard again. And then the hymn was over. The music stopped. The light returned to normal, and I was alone in the pew. I looked around and no one else had noticed anything out of the ordinary. But because I was so afraid of what it meant and knowing the challenges coming with being a pastor, I kept this moment in my heart until I was 19."

After undergrad, she attended Claremont School of Theology in California. She sought a seminary "that was a good fit theologically," she said, and one "based on the needs of my future ministry setting" where she would "be a Christian leader in a pluralistic society." 

All told, it cost Marston $250,000 in tuition and room and board to prepare to become an elder. Scholarships, including some from Higher Education and Ministry, covered most of the costs. Yet, she still graduated with $55,000 in student loans.

"This was such a leap of faith, because the United Methodist process means that graduating from seminary doesn't guarantee ordination," she added. "We, as a denomination, need to take a long, hard look at the financial burdens higher education puts on future pastors."

During her time as a provisional elder, Marston learned following means trusting and listening to God.

She was ordained elder in July 2015.

While she spent many years trying to avoid thinking about being a pastor, she said, "I discovered everything I wanted to do was (ordained) ministry. And I am very content to be where I am."

Marston affirms United Methodist teaching that every Christian is called to ministry through baptism. She said laypeople do miracles that reach and touch lives in profound ways that help bring about the kingdom of God on earth.

Polly House, freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee.

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.