My name is Andrew Hollinger. I am your seminarian.
For the past five years Christ Church has been such a blessing to me. This church and this community introduced me to the historic faith. Y’all welcomed me into a community of worship and devotion. Bishop Iker confirmed me here. I dated and eventually married my wife here. I love this place. While many of you know me, many don’t. This is a good thing in part, because it means that God has been growing Christ Church since I have been gone. I also chalk it up to the fact that we are a parish in a university town with a somewhat transient nature. Students come and go and so community changes. Not to mention how Covid has disrupted lots of community events and socialization, but I digress. I wanted to check in with everyone who has poured into me these past five years, and introduce myself to those who God has brought into our family. This is an opportunity for me to tell y’all a little bit more about myself and my journey in discerning a call to the priesthood.
When I was a child I was haunted by God. I saw Him everywhere, Creator of the birds, the trees, in the pastures where my family raised cattle, in the rough neighborhoods of downtown Killeen where I lived. It was only as I became serious about my faith as a boy when I began to see God in me. Not in the weird new-agey sense that I am somehow divine, but in the true Christian sense that the Spirit of God indwells in my heart, permeates my life, and calls me closer to Himself. Like many of us at Christ Church Waco, a majority as far as I understand, I was raised in the Baptist/non-denominational church. There, I felt a call to a certain ministry: worship leading. Since I had the great privilege to attend a small Christian school just down the road in Temple, I was surrounded by friends and adult mentors who were faithful, discerning Christians that affirmed me in this call I perceived.
Although I was just a high school kid who could barely play guitar and who was too shy to sing, in time I became the leader of our Wednesday chapel and from there began leading worship at churches, camps, and conventions in our surrounding area. I loved theology and worship, not so much for what it gave me but because the Truth compelled me to worship, and the experience of God in worship compelled me to grow closer to God in my understanding of Him. It was a fantastic set-up. That is, until God took my voice away. In my last half of my senior year of High School, I blew out my voice at a volleyball game and couldn’t talk for about a month, and only this year have I mostly regained my singing voice. As one can assume, this put me in a strange predicament. I felt called to be a worship leader, a preacher, a theologian, but I was physically unable to do so. In a word, it crushed me. It crushed me at the point in a man’s life when the world should feel open and full of opportunity. For three months, the end of December until the night before Easter 2017, I was helpless. Then, something happened. The older sister of one of my friends invited me to this church service that started at 10:30, something called Easter Vigil, at this church meeting in an elementary school. It was called Christ Church Waco. And as I, a 17 year old Southern Baptist in the middle of the deepest existential crisis of his short life, walked into the chapel as Fr. Lee Nelson was baptizing babies (full immersion, of course), celebrating the Eucharist, and as everyone was singing hymns I’d never heard, I knew one thing to be true. This. This was true. This was worship. This was something I had never known and yet at the same time was something I’d always expected. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing, I could whisper. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t on stage behind a mic, I was on my knees on the cosmic stage before the throne of God, with the entire cloud of witnesses behind me moving me towards my Father, towards my Lord in the Eucharist. I was shocked, appalled, offended, and yet fully at home, comforted, and at rest. I was in Love. A few years later I read this article in North American Anglican that I think all us Bapto-Catholics can resonate with.
Fast forward five years, a Great Texts degree, a pandemic, a marriage, and lots of discernment, I have finished my first year at Nashotah House as a postulant in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. One of the biggest things I have learned through this winding process is that a calling, a vocation, can be subject to change. I don’t mean that God leaves us high and dry. I mean that in particular times, in particular circumstances, we are called to do something for the Kingdom. Deborah was called to be a Judge at a time when Israel was wayward and the leaders were cowardly. St. Peter was the first apostle to the Gentiles, then the Lord called a fiery, warring man named Saul for that purpose. Moses was called to lead his people out of Egypt, but this took on various modes throughout his life. Likewise, we are all called, in one way or another, to some kind of ministry to the body of Christ, the Church. Some are called for a lifelong vocation, some are called for a time. I, for example, did FCA and led worship in High School. Then God called me to something else. In college, I ministered to the broken and skeptical in a student organization even as I was broken and skeptical at times myself. Then God called me somewhere else. To my wife, Elizabeth, I am called forever to be a godly husband. And now, with the fear of God and the assent of the church, I believe myself to be called to the priesthood.
On Ember days, seminarians fast, pray, and write to their Bishop updating them on their studies, how they have discerned the continuation of their call, their personal life updates, etc. This is a helpful practice not just for seminarians, but for all Christians. I don’t think that Bishop Reed has time to review and respond to the thousands of parishioners in our diocese, but I do think that we should be always discerning what ministry God has called us to. For some, it’s behind the scenes: bringing coffee for the parish hall for the times between and after masses to facilitate community. (There is a joke about how bad church coffee is, but I never understood it. Ours is the best, and you can quote me on that!) For others, it’s lay ministry: reading scripture faithfully and effectively in mass, lay chaplaincy, teaching Sunday School, and other more visible ministries. But the greatest ministry, I believe, is the ministry common to all: showing deep and profound love to all people, especially those in our church family. That is what makes Christ Church so special in my eyes. There are plenty of liturgical churches, there are plenty of aesthetically beautiful churches, but what has stood out about Christ Church is that we truly are a family. The love for our family should inspire us to do exactly what St. Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12: build up our church, build up our community. As a baptist kid walking though the doors of Eagle Christian for the first time I was met with love and invitation, the natural fruit of a sacramental life of worship. This has inspired in me the desire to serve like I was served, love like I was loved, and teach like I was taught.
I am blessed to call y’all my home church and to walk through this season of discernment with you, if at a distance. Thank you for your prayers, and y’all are in mine.