R. Scott Burkley
I have always been religious, at least so I’ve been told. I did not have a choice in the matter. From the time I was two, my Grandmother, who was the adult Sunday school teacher, stopped by the house to walk me to the little church a block and a half away. Whether I was ready or not, she would patiently wait at the bottom of the stairs until I went with her. If I made her late for Sunday School my parents were not happy.
That went on until I graduated from high school and received my pin for 16 years of perfect Sunday school attendance. Rancocas, New Jersey was a very safe and sheltered place to live. Even folks who were not members of the church, or the Friends Meeting in town, had respect for the church and honored the Christian faith. From my perspective, this was the way life was.
That all changed when I went to the University of Maryland. Within minutes after my parents dropped me off, someone came into my room offering to sell me marijuana. A few weeks later, I arrived at my dorm room after an all-night session at the Maryland Observatory to find my roommate’s scantily clad girlfriend in my bed. It was a shock that not everyone lived in the Christian culture in which I grew up.
What complicated life was how I felt about myself. I didn’t like me. I wasn’t athletic, only earned average grades, and felt socially awkward. Worse yet, my sensitive spirit was mostly directed inwardly, and I bruised easily. Forget about God’s standards, I wasn’t even living up to my own standards.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit intervened so that I could attend the retreat. From that point on, my doubts about God evaporated.
This realization began a period lasting about 18 months of questioning my faith. I needed to decide what I really believed, not just because someone told me what to believe, or because it was a part of my cultural beliefs. I became active in the university chapel, but in the early 1970s, the emphasis was more about protesting the war in Vietnam or the conditions in Biafra, but not much about God. My chapel experience ended at the conclusion of my freshman year, when the university chaplain resigned because he decided he didn’t believe in God anymore.
Another Christian group shared the chapel when we had our chapel meetings; so I visited them one evening. It was a leader’s meeting, but they allowed me to sit in. After the meeting was over, two of the members sat with me awhile and listened to my story. Then they shared their own faith stories. They spoke about how God created me, loved me, and even though he knew all about me, God wanted me as one of his children. God loved me so much that Jesus willingly took my sins, weaknesses, and infirmities upon himself, and suffered the consequences of my disobedience on the cross. I began to see that being a Christian was not about living in a Christian culture, or following a cause, or even a set of rules. Instead, it was about having a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Not only that, but God created me to be unique, and I didn’t have to measure myself by the standards of others.
There was no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit intervened so that I could attend the retreat, and from that point on, my doubts about God evaporated.
On the way back to my dorm room, I willingly and joyfully accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord. I felt incredibly free and humbled at the same time. During the next few months, I allowed the sensitivity I had directed inwardly to open up to others. I began to accept myself as God had accepted me.
A watershed moment occurred when I attended a retreat at Massanetta Springs, Virginia, sponsored by a Christian group called the Navigators. My new Christian friends encouraged me to attend, but I didn’t have the $35 registration fee. My friends encouraged me to pray about it. Three days before the retreat I got a letter from my great-aunt Mary, who I hadn’t heard from in two years of college. In it was a simple note: “Thought you could use this,” with a check for $35. There was no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit intervened so that I could attend the retreat, and from that point on, my doubts about God evaporated.
My next step in faith was to ask the question, “What difference does God’s love for me make in my life?” Somehow a career in astronomy didn’t hold the excitement it once had. Many of my friends were going into Campus Ministry, but that didn’t seem where God was leading me either. I decided to enroll in seminary to explore possibilities. I joined my parents’ church, was accepted at Princeton Seminary, and enrolled as a candidate in West Jersey Presbytery.
As icing on the cake, I got a job at the Princeton Observatory as the principle data processor for the Copernicus Orbiting Observatory. My other job was serving as the student assistant pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Edison, New Jersey. It was through the pastor of that church that I fell in love with the pastoral ministry, and felt called to be a pastor.
So that’s my story. After eighteen years serving churches in Iowa and Ohio, I came back east in 1993. As I look back at some of those early experiences, I see how God used even the negative ones as preparation to be the pastor of a new start-up church in Middletown. This is where God wants me to be, and I have no doubt we are all working in the midst of the Holy Spirit. Life continues to offer real adventures in loving Jesus.
More Faith Stories
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