When did you know? Eight 'call to ministry' stories

When did you know? Eight 'call to ministry' stories

Oct. 18, 2018 | Alcoa, Tennessee

When did you know? How did you know?

What happened when you felt God loved you and was calling you to work for him for the rest of your life?

People who feel "called to ministry" often describe a watershed moment that, even if they tried to ignore it, was unforgettable and undeniable. Pastors might recognize and share their experiences more often because of their training and daily responsibilities, but the passion and tug that lay people feel to share in the Lord’s work can be just as strong.

We asked eight of our church members to share how they recognized their calls to ministry. If you’re recognizing a similar urge or longing or know someone who is, please see the resources at the end of this story collection.



Yes, laity can also feel a call to ministry. I was driving to a Discipleship Team meeting at First United Methodist Church in Morristown. Because of a wreck, I had to get off the interstate and take a back road. GPS did not yet exist, so I had no idea how to get where I was going, but I knew I was generally headed in the right direction on 11E. On my car CD player, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir began singing, “Lead me, Lord, I will follow. Lead me, Lord, I will go.” And I very distinctly heard God say to me, “This is where I am calling you. You belong in ministry.”

I pulled off the road and hit replay five or six times. I didn’t share this experience with anyone for some time, but I continued to pray for God to lead me to where God wanted me. Two years later, Mary Frances Tucker asked me to apply for the position of Director of Connectional Ministries, and I told her this was an answer to prayer. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Anne Travis, age 65, served as Holston director of connectional ministries from 2000 to 2013. She currently serves as conference secretary for The United Methodist Church’s Southeastern Jurisdiction.




After pursuing promotions in my secular job that kept coming up empty, my call to ministry came as a youth leader on my first trip to Resurrection in 2014. The speaker that year preached on God speaking through a still small voice to Elijah. As she was praying, I knew that God wanted me to do something more than what I was doing, but I didn't know what.

So I said, “God, I know you want me to do something more than what I am doing. If you will just tell me what you want me to do, I'll do it.” I prayed this prayer not expecting an answer. But in a still small voice, God said to me, “I want you to become a pastor.” I immediately knew this was the "missing something" source, because I had instant peace about it. I am so thankful that God called me to pastor.

The Rev. David Payne, age 40, is pastor at Mt. Vale United Methodist Church and Savannah United Methodist Church in Galax, Virginia. He is also associate pastor at Out of the Box United Methodist Church in Hillsville, Virginia.




To say that I was raised in the church is an understatement. My family was made up of active laity and my mom served on a church staff. But ordained ministry was never on my radar. I was 13 years old and attending Junior High Assembly when I first felt a call to ministry. While walking down the hall to sign up for an afternoon workshop, I felt myself stop in front of this lime-green sign that proclaimed, "So You Want to Go Into Ministry?" I laughed internally and thought I was walking down the hall. However, the next thing I realized I was writing my name on that sign.

Through conversations with clergy that I really respected and while being involved in Holston's Conference Council on Youth Ministries, I came to understand that my gifts and graces were to be used in ordained ministry. I remember being asked by a district committee on ministry what I would do if I didn't pursue ordination as an elder. I still don't have an answer to that question today. My love of preaching, the sacraments, and continually learning and living into the kingdom of God all reinforce that I am called to ordained ministry.

The Rev. Palmer Cantler, age 25, is a provisional elder and associate pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.  




I was raised in Kegley United Methodist Church. When I was 10 years old, my Sunday school teacher told me in frustration – because I was under the table during the lesson – that I had not heard a thing. In response, I recited the complete story of Joseph from pit to Potiphar to prison to palace. She then told me, “Kevin Richardson, you’re going to be a fine preacher one day.”

Fast forward to 1998 when I was 26 years old. I was stripping the floors at Rocky Gap Pentecostal Holiness Church, where my father-in-law was pastor. I suddenly got a burden for folks who are unsaved that I couldn’t shake. It brought me to tears. I knew in my heart from that moment God was calling me into ministry. I knew it like I knew my name, my social security number, my driver's license number, the names and birthdays of my children. I just knew.

I struggled with my call for four years until I preached for the first time at age 30. I was ordained in the Pentecostal Holiness church but through prayer and prison ministry, God led me right back to The United Methodist Church. I’m now in my ninth year of appointment in Holston Conference.

The Rev. Kevin Richardson, age 46, is pastor of the Bland Circuit in Bland, Virginia.




I was comfortable in helping to lead worship for the 35 to 50 people who come to our contemporary service at Wesley Memorial. But when I was asked to be a singer in the Johnson City District youth group that would be performing at Resurrection, I didn’t think I wanted to do that in front of all those people. So I prayed about it, and I felt like God said to me, “No, Callee, you need to do this.”

So I told the youth leaders I would help, but I was thinking that I would just do background vocals. Instead, they asked me to do a solo. I said, “No, I don’t think so …” And God said, “Nope, you’re doing this, Callee."

The song we were supposed to sing at Resurrection was “Something Beautiful.” On the first performance, I lost it and cried through the whole thing. But on the second performance, we prayed first and I wasn’t nervous at all. While I was singing, I looked down in the mosh pit at Resurrection, and I thought I saw someone who looked like the pictures we have of Jesus with long hair. Maybe it was just a human with long hair, but it looked like Jesus was there, supporting me.

Last summer, I worked as a counselor at Camp Bays Mountain, and it was very reassuring to know that I’m a trustworthy person for the kids who shared things with me. I’ve always had a passion to help people, so I feel like I might be called to be a guidance counselor for elementary kids.

Callee Whitaker, age 18, is a member at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee.




It happened when I was a freshman in high school in Franklin, Tennessee. I was a member of First United Methodist Church, and we had a youth retreat at Beersheba Springs Assembly in the late fall. I distinctly remember having trouble sleeping, so I got up, sneaked out on the porch of the old inn and sat in a rocking chair. 

It was a crystal-clear night with a beautiful view of the night sky. I felt a voice speaking to me, telling me that I was loved and calling me to do something in ministry. While I felt the warmth of being loved, the thought of going into ministry was the last thing I wanted to do. I remember tears as the voice and my will collided. I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer -- anything but a preacher! 

As it happened, our youth leader, Kevin, came out on the porch and sat down next to me. We rocked for a while. He asked if I was OK. I shared what I felt happening and how it wasn't what I wanted. I'll never forget him telling me about prevenient grace and how God woos us, even before we realize it and before we want to accept it. He said, "Wayne, if God is calling you into ministry, he won't let go until he's got you." 

Long story short, I finally gave in at age 45. I have been a pastor in the Holston Conference since 2006. 

The Rev. Wayne Cook, age 58, is pastor of McFarland United Methodist Church in Rossville, Georgia.




In May of 1996, I was driving home and sensed the voice of God saying, “Put a full tank of gas in your car." I couldn't believe that God would do that! Sixty miles later, my car caught fire on the road. In less than 20 minutes, I lost all of my uninsured possessions. I really had to place everything in God's hands.

I would find out a week later that since liquid gasoline doesn't burn and fumes explode, the simple act of filling my tank had saved my life. Later that summer, I was given a car free of charge by someone I didn't even know. I went back to college that fall with more than I had lost, but this time with new purpose. In the midst of all my questions, I distinctly sensed God calling me into ministry. I asked a prayer partner at college about it, and he told me that he knew from the first day he met me that this was my calling.

The rest is history. I have been a pastor for 16 years in the Holston Conference. I look back on that day in 1996 as my "burning bush" experience. It also happens that I have been called into helping others in the same trials as a volunteer firefighter!

The Rev. Richard Rudesill, age 43, is pastor of Tuckaleechee United Methodist Church in Townsend, Tennessee. 




At first, it was just a niggling in my subconscious that kept growing until I couldn't hold it inside anymore. On a Wednesday night while at our home church's fellowship dinner, all I could hear was, "Go tell David you want to pursue becoming a minister." I did. The buzz calmed. 

Valerie Ohle, age 61, is a member at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. (The "David" in this story is the Rev. David Fugatt.) Ohle successfully completed local pastor licensing school in 2017 and is awaiting a ministerial appointment.


When did you hear your call to ministry? If you'll share your story, we'll do another collection in the future. Email annettespence@holston.org.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a call to ministry, please talk to your pastor and check out the following resources: 

> For information about Holston's candidacy ministry process, contact Rev. Tim Jones, vocational discernment coordinator, 865-690-4080 or timjones@Holston.org.

> Defining Moments DiscernMyCall.com

> ExploreCalling.org

> General Board of Higher Education & Ministry

> Empowering young people to answer God's call (Interpreter)

> Creating a culture of the call (Interpreter)


The Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church includes 872 congregations in east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia.