My Faith Story by Bob Cunningham

Written by Bob on the occasion of his election to serve as a Deacon beginning in August 2012

Frederick Buechner writes that when he declared his intent to become a minister, an elderly woman in the church asked him, “Was this your idea, or have you been poorly advised.”  As I declare my intent to serve as a deacon, I’m also wondering the same thing, “was this my idea…?”  Of course, that raises the question of how I came to faith in the first place…

I was first baptized as an infant in the Evangelical United Brethren church (which later merged with the Methodists).  I went through confirmation at age twelve—giving all the right answers I’d been taught to memorize.  Answers that held little if any real meaning for me.  Soon after, my parents decided to look for another denomination because they thought we were not “getting enough out of church.”  As an adolescent—that is precisely what I wanted:  out of church!

We joined a Baptist church (my family of four along with my cousins’ family of five—the church thought a revival had broken out).  We walked down front and I said yes to everything the pastor asked me.  He concluded I had just accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior—a Jesus I don’t recall ever having rejected.  I was baptized for a second time—this one by immersion.

I was further “immersed” into the life and culture of a Southern Baptist church, which meant in part that I was soon trying desperately to figure out if I were “saved” or not.  I read all I could in the Bible and half of it led me to believe I was—half of it not.  Finally, a well-intentioned youth pastor led me through the “sinner’s prayer” and right back into the baptismal waters (third time—if it gets you into heaven—I can take two people with me).

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things in my faith journey.  I learned that questions are as valuable as answers—maybe more so.  I learned that conversion is a life-long process more than a specific moment. I came to seminary in the 1970’s believing people only entered the ministry by “surrendering to God’s call against their wishes.”  That belief ran so deep for me that I almost dropped out when I realized how much I was enjoying seminary, how much I wanted to be here—that entering ministry was in part, my idea.  It was Bill Leonard who suggested to me that God maybe could lasso people against their wishes—but also calls us by instilling the desire deep within us.

I entered seminary assuming I’d a pastor.  However, serving as a student chaplain at Baptist East, I fell in love with pastoral care.  I felt like a fish that had discovered water and to this day I love my work.  As Frederick Buechner writes:  There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, & the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the super-ego, or self-interest. By & large a good rule for finding out is this…The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do & (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness & the world’s deep hunger meet.

It is with deep gladness that I hope to serve as your deacon in the coming three years.  Highland has given much to me & to my family over the years.  Most of our closest friends are people here at Highland.  The choral music is often the very voice of God for me; and the congregational singing…well, it often evokes a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, faith in my heart.  Both of my children have been baptized & nurtured in the faith—(my thanks to Nina, Carol, and Sunday School teachers like Kathey Golightly-Sanders and Phil Collier).  Seven years ago when my father died, I was standing by his casket, feeling the pain of his absence from my life—when in walked Bill Campbell, Scott Hedges & a few other deacons from Highland who’d driven two hours to offer their love & support.

My prayer is that my ministry as a deacon will offer this community even a small measure of the grace and love I’ve received as a member of Highland.