Perspectives :: Discerning a Call to Ordained Life

By the Rev. Claudia Greggs

Nothing about Virginia McCray Musselman’s life is accidental.  At birth, she was given the name “Virginia,” which means “pure of heart,” a quality her parents hoped would always characterize her.  From an early age Virginia had a longing to serve the Lord and would ply her father, a minister ordained in the Presbyterian church, with questions about Jesus and salvation.  Her father reminded her often that God had a special plan for her life.

In her teens, Virginia’s faith grew and she actively sought to discern the plans God had for her.  Upon her eighteenth birthday she spent several days apart in prayer and study as she pondered what path the Lord might have for her to take next.  A verse in the book of Isaiah captured her attention: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations…”  42:6.  She sensed that this verse, although originally intended for the people of Judah, was also a word to her from the Lord, to assure her of two essential points – that He had set her apart for a special purpose and He would lead her step by step.

Years later, as she looked back on that time spent in prayer, Virginia realized that God was teaching her how to listen for His voice and to trust Him – both of which are essential for a life in ministry.  She returns to this verse often, and as God’s plan for her life continues to unfold, she trusts that the Lord will guide her, as if holding her by the hand, to whatever He has in store for her next.

Virginia is the eldest of eight children, all of whom were home schooled.  As she was finishing her high school studies she applied to do short-term mission work in Romania, through Bill Gothard’s foreign mission agency.  Her father worked for Bill Gothard and Romania was a country Virginia’s parents loved and prayed for, so when Virginia learned that there was an opening for a teen to serve in Romania, she was eager to apply.  She was accepted and served for two years – three months each school semester, with a furlough at home in Arkansas during the summer months.

When an opportunity arose for a family to serve in missions in Romania, Virginia and her parents and siblings all went together.  They spent the next three years there in family ministry.  Virginia worked with Romanian teens using a curriculum developed by Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Studies which offered lessons in character development.  Although the government prohibited evangelism in the classroom, the mission teams sought to develop relationships with the students so that they could share their faith with the students outside the classroom.

After five years of missions work in Romania, Virginia returned to the States and pursued an undergraduate degree in English from Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, New Jersey.  After graduation, and unsure of what to do next, she decided to move to North Carolina along with her cousin, who had been accepted into a graduate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   It was not long before Virginia found employment as a first grade teacher’s assistant at a Christian school.

After visiting a few churches in the area, Virginia and her cousin accepted a friend’s invitation to worship nearby at All Saints Anglican Church – and once they did, they felt drawn to return, Sunday after Sunday.  Virginia quickly discovered that Anglicanism afforded her the most authentic expression of her faith in Jesus Christ and within a year she was a confirmed member of All Saints.

She continued working as a teacher’s assistant for several more years, but eventually realized that although she loved the children she worked with, it was in interactions with adults – parents and colleagues – where she felt she was truly ministering.  It became increasingly clear to Virginia that she needed to make a decision about her future: either seek to be certified as a teacher or find a way to return to evangelistic ministry, which she loved and missed.

About this time Bishop Steve Breedlove, who was the Rector of All Saints, encouraged Virginia to consider prayerfully ordination to the diaconate.  The process of discerning a call to ordained ministry was both exciting and unsettling for Virginia because even though she sensed the Lord’s hand in Bishop Breedlove’s invitation, she knew her parents would not be able to support her if she reached the conclusion she was called to the diaconate.  They still belonged to the denomination in which she was raised – one in which women were not ordained or allowed to teach or preach in the presence of men.

In time and after much prayer, Virginia reached the same conclusion as that of the discernment committee at All Saints with whom she was working – that the Lord was calling her to ordination to the diaconate.  The endorsement she received from the committee and from Bishop Breedlove was wholehearted and unanimous.  Although she hated to disappoint her parents, she also knew she was obeying God’s call on her life – something her parents had raised her to do.  Eventually Virginia’s parents were able to support her decision and her family travelled to North Carolina to attend her ordination.

During this time and following her ordination, Virginia participated in a program designed by Bishop Breedlove for men and women entering ordained ministry called, Anglican Missional Pastor.  After she completed that program she decided she wanted to further her education in ministry so with Bishop Breedlove’s blessing she enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program through Regent University in Virginia Beach.

For the first eighteen months of the program Virginia resided in Virginia Beach and served as a deacon at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Norfolk.  She had met the rector of Redeemer, Brian Campbell, through the Anglican Missional Pastor program so when she moved to Virginia Beach Brian invited her to serve as a deacon at his church.  Little did she know that she would meet her future husband at this church.

On the first Sunday of Advent in 2012, several months after Virginia began her studies at Regent, John Musselman was in town visiting his parents.  John lived and worked in Raleigh, where he was a member of the Church of the Apostles.  However, whenever he was in Norfolk John would worship at Redeemer – and he knew Brian, and his wife, Janis, well.  In fact, Janis was eager to introduce John to Virginia.

So on that Sunday morning, just before the service began, Janis made a point of introducing John to Virginia.  However, there was no time to talk afterward, so John contacted Virginia after he returned to Raleigh.  Each had been praying for some time to the Lord about finding the right spouse – someone who was a biblically-grounded and deeply committed Christian – and within a matter of months John and Virginia knew that the Lord had answered their prayers by bringing them together.  One year later, they were married and Virginia moved back to Raleigh and completed her degree online.

Virginia graduated in 2015 and was chosen by the seminary faculty to receive the “Outstanding Graduate” award – a distinction granted each year to one graduating student, based upon academic excellence and Christian character.  She had begun her seminary studies unsure of her ability to do well and of her future role in the church but the Lord affirmed her desire for more education and His call on her life through the encouragement and respect she was afforded by her teachers and fellow students.  They saw how the Lord was using her mightily for ministry – and eventually she, too, began to sense that her call from God was beyond what she had previously envisioned – the she was being called to serve as a priest.  Her husband, John, agrees wholeheartedly.

Virginia now serves as a deacon at Church of the Holy Cross in Raleigh and has entered into a discernment process in the Diocese of the Carolinas for ordination to the priesthood.  Although she could not have envisioned this path for her life when she was a teenager, the words the Lord spoke to her at that time through the prophet Isaiah continue to encourage her and call her forward.

 

The Rev. Claudia Greggs is the Clergy Associate for Pastoral Care at Holy Trinity Church in Raleigh.

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