A letter to the church that helped me become a pastor

Posted by on December 1, 2006

Do you every wonder if what you do makes a difference?

I had a sense of a call to vocational ministry (that’s seminary speak for doing ministry for a living) as early as college, but the place that I really learned to understand my call was Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church. They’re celebrating their 50 anniversary this year, and they invited those church members who have become pastors to write about their experience. I’m sharing mine with you so that you can see how many different people and programs God used in order to grow me enough to be ready to answer the call to ministry. As you read it, think about the “little things” that you may have done and how – taken together with the actions of others – they can change people’s lives.

I came to Sunnyvale as a software engineer and left as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. As I looked around at San Francisco Theological Seminary, I saw a number of people I knew from church so I joked with Steve Harrington that there must be something in the water. “Yes,” he replied, “It’s the baptismal water.”

Your church and church leadership did a number of things that helped me to find my call. When my wife Eleanor and I first came to the church, we met the Graffts, who kept checking in with us whenever they saw us. Then when I had an early sense of the call to ministry and felt overwhelmed by it, Dale Bracey encouraged me to take it slowly. As a result of our meeting, I joined the choir. That group supported Eleanor and me and helped us find community as well as a sense of serving God through music.

When that no longer seemed enough, I grew in ministry further by working with the high schoolers of C.L.U.E. and the other adult volunteers there. There’s nothing like working with youth to help you work out your own stuff! Next, Eleanor and I deepened our relationship with Christ and our understanding of God’s word in the two-year Crossways class. Finally, when I was ready to seek what radical thing God might be leading me to, Steve Wilde was there to walk through it with me. Steve met with me every Wednesday morning and then drove up to San Anselmo with me to visit some seminary classes and meet some of the seminary students, faculty, and administrators. He was supportive along the way in seminary too. And Steve trusted me enough to give me responsibility for Youth Sunday one year – truly a transformative experience.

Later, Steve Harrington coached me. Then session approved my entry into the ordination process, Sven Jensen, my session liaison, kept tabs on me – and Eleanor – to make sure we were doing OK with many lunches after church. He represented the church well and made us feel cared for.

Sunnyvale was also where we learned to tithe. Without handing over the power of money to God, I would never have been able to give up my Silicon Valley salary and upward mobility.

These may all have seemed like small things to the people involved, but God worked mightily through them, moving me from where I was to where I was meant to be. While I experienced many satisfying moments in my career in the computer business, I never had “this is what I was made to do” moments until I had chances to preach and lead worship.

I am truly grateful for the members, pastors, and staff of Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church. Your faithfulness as disciples of Jesus Christ made the ministry I do every day possible. I thank God for your gift to me, to my family, and to Christ’s Church.

Love in Christ,

The Rev. Steve Whitney

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