Apr 28, 2023 Print This Article

Prepared, shaped for ministry

Every individual has a unique background and path to ministry. Each path is shaped by the time frame in which one was born, where he/she was born, the family one was born into, the people positioned in that person’s life, and the circumstances surrounding the development and growth of that individual. These factors are what prepared and shaped me for my entrance into the pastoral ministry.

I was born to my godly parents, Arthur and Barbara Bodley, in Alabama. My father was a Lutheran pastor in Alabama for eight years before he took a call to be a pastor in Chicago, Ill. It was on the south side of Chicago at Saint Paul Lutheran Church, which also had a school for children in grades in kindergarten through eighth grade where I was raised. It was in this family and educational context where my spiritual formation took place.

My earliest memories are of my father leading my brother and me to kneel in prayer beside our beds before going to bed, and learning the Lord’s Prayer. The other dimension of my faith formation was having family devotion after we concluded breakfast or dinner. During the school year, family devotions were mostly in the evening, but in the summer we had them after breakfast, when my mother, who was a high school English teacher, was on summer vacation and didn’t have to leave early for work. My spiritual formation also included chapel every Wednesday where we had teachings by both the teachers and my father. We also experienced rich seasonal Christmas and Easter programs, which were full of hymns and Scriptures that were recited and sung.

One of the most influential experiences that helped to shape my heart for considering the pastoral ministry was when I would accompany my father to conduct home visits. As I watched him speak the words of institution, and then present elderly members with Christ-promised words, life-changing grace and the sin-cleansing meal, I knew I was in the presence of something holy and powerful. It was this immersion and early introduction to faith and ministry that shaped my heart and led me, without any prompting from my parents, to declare in eighth grade that I wanted to go into the pastoral ministry.

Along my journey, there were a few other spiritual markers that guided me into ministry. One of these experiences was not typical but I will share it. I was attending Luther High School South on the southwest side of Chicago. In my freshmen year I was walking to class and I heard a voice say to me, “Your path will be a little difficult and sometimes lonely but don’t worry I am with you.” This was shocking to me because there was no one around and no one had ever said anything to me about the difficulty of ministry. I kept that thought and never told my parents or anyone about that episode.

The next spiritual marker in my journey that left an indelible expression on me occurred during my first year in seminary. Going to seminary was an immense, intimidating and overwhelming step. On one particular day I was really feeling down and wondering if the ministry was the direction I was supposed to go in, and if I would have capability and perseverance to finish. On that day, Dr. Walther Maier II was teaching the class from Phil. 4: 4-7. The theme of that lesson was the antidote to worry. It was the way in which he delivered that message that I knew the Holy Spirit was speaking directly to me. He closed his eyes and walked slowly from one end of the classroom to the other, casually pointing at us, to encourage us, and in those minutes my heart began to burn with hope and assurance. After his class ended, I remember praying, “Lord help me to be able to proclaim Your message to people with that confidence and power.”

The other significant spiritual marker occurred in my life later in my first year at Concordia Theological Seminary. The LORD had providentially placed Chaplain Martin Stahl from active duty service as a U.S. Navy chaplain to be a professor for a couple of years at the seminary. One day as I sat in his office, I was given the opportunity to hear him talk with two different people who were experiencing a crisis in their lives. With each of them, he listened, asked questions and then shared that he believed he knew someone who could help them. I could hear each person on the other end of the line thanking him. I remember saying to myself, “I want to be able to help people the way he does.” After his phone calls, he said to me, “I think you should consider becoming a Navy chaplain.” I shared with him my reservations about it being a large institution, and he gave the rebuttal, “The church is a large institution.”

Stahl went on to share with me that I should consider going into the chaplain candidacy program, which was offered in the summer for eight weeks. He told me that it was not a life commitment, but that I would learn so much from the experience and maybe I would like it. It was his suggestion and encouragement that led me to be exposed to a different kind of ministry outside of the parish. Going into that program before being ordained provided me the opportunity to be immersed in an environment that was multiethnic, multigenerational and multicultural, and it also was in an organization that prepared people for a global mission in the world. It was in that environment I learned how to listen, understand the hurts of people, and what it meant to learn and live in a culture that is unfamiliar. It was in the military I learned how to minister to the whole person.

Upon graduation from seminary and my ordination, I went on to serve in the U.S. Navy as a Naval Reserve chaplain from 1994 to 2004. I was mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and served with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as the battalion chaplain, and that has forever changed my life. During those years I also served as a full-time pastor in Orlando, Fla., for 14 years and watched as God transformed this predominantly African-American congregation into a multiethnic congregation. I have served in urban ministry for 30 years and I am currently serving in Detroit, Mich.

To God be the glory!

Rev. Chris Bodley received a Master of Divinity in 1992 from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., is serving as director of the Acts 2 Enterprise and as a missionary at-large in Detroit, Mich., and as a Student Recruitment Ambassador at Concordia Seminary.