Anyone ever wonder how Revvy came to be a minister? A couple weeks ago I was looking through some files on my old laptop getting ready to transfer things to my new laptop and I found an unfinished write up I had done, I guess in ministerial school. It was an overview and left out some key details.
I decided to tell the whole sordid story in detail. Very few people have heard the complete story. Though I brought two journalists to tears with it- one of the writers for Unity Magazine, and and a journalist for a Newspaper when I had a church in Florida, though neither of them published it (The Florida reporter said she had it in the feature on my but her editor removed it.)
So if you ever wondered how a putz like me became a “man of the cloth” here it is. I swear to God on stack of many bibles all of this is true. I still think God was high that day, and I tried to run from it, but I kept getting dragged back to the reality that I was supposed to do this…
(And yes, it’s a LONG story… but 100% true.)
I believe that God reveals itself to us constantly, and the message comes to us in many ways, both grand and subtle. But God has also given us free will, which means we have a choice as to whether or not we are open to receiving Divine wisdom. Or ultimately whether or not we want to accept what the Universe has in store for us.
God also, evidently has infinite patience and will wait as long as it takes for us to “get the message”. And if we ask to be given “a swift kick on the behind”, the Divine is more than willing to oblige.
I know from experience. It’s how I ended up with the “Rev.” in front of my name, whether I wanted it or not.
It is late spring, 1995, and I am sitting in my therapist’s office about to conclude my final session with her. Neither of us is particularly ready to end our time together, not because I’m not yet able to soar on my own, but because we’ve come to regard our time together as sacred.
She has told me repeatedly that I am not like her other patients in this inner-city clinic, where the bulk of her clients come to work on severe substance abuse issues. I came to this clinic due to the vagaries of my HMO to do work on my suicidal depression, and as Joanne Roth, my angel disguised as a psychologist has told me repeatedly, to reawaken my numbed spirit. She has told me repeatedly that she would wait expectantly for my weekly updates as I rediscovered parts of me that I never knew existed.
I came to her two years before, as I was facing a downhill slide to my thirtieth birthday. And indeed, downhill it truly was, for I had realized, during a “dark night of the soul” that I was planning not to be alive for my birthday. My older brother, and mentor, had attempted suicide after tiredly battling cancer for two years and a month after his attempt I was ready to succeed where he had not, and yet I ended up finding Joanne instead.
There is a saying that goes, “when the student is ready, the master appears” and another that says, “God puts people in each other’s lives for a reason”. Joanne wasn’t just my therapist; she truly was my angel, my savior. She was both a guide and a “fellow traveler” on my journey. It was her who handed me a copy of the poet Robert Bly’s book Iron John and showed me my need to do “Mythopoetic” men’s work. She encouraged me to return to the Church of Today and re-embrace my spirituality. She even discovered a hidden artist/craftsman, buried since childhood, and sent me to an art supply store as a homework assignment.
She looked at the field of psychology as the Ancient Greeks defined it, where “psyche” meant “soul”. She treated both my mind and my spirit.
Now we were sitting across from each other, almost knee to knee. She had taken most of the session to go over specifics in my file. She presented a timeline of my emotional journey, from when I first walked in a broken man until now. She charted the milestones that I had made and shared her observations. As she brought my file up to date she stopped suddenly. I could see her eyes were wet. “Michael”, she said softly, “I need to tell you that in the last two years you really have blossomed. You are becoming an awesome man. I see some really big things happening in your life. I see you teaching workshops, I see becoming a published author, and I see you becoming a minister.”
The thought of me entering the ministry was not something I’d ever truly considered. I really wasn’t sure if I truly believed in all that “God stuff” anyway, so I sort of forgot that part of the story.
A couple months later, I was attending a Wednesday night talk at church given by Rev. Linda Dominick-Lynch. The topic was answering God’s call to service, and also being aware of that “still small voice” or those signs that lead us to just what we are supposed to be doing. Suddenly, during her meditation, my hands became intensely hot, as if I had suddenly grasped a large mug of extremely hot coffee. After my initial surprise I took this as a message that I needed to listen to, I also knew intuitively how to pursue it further.
No matter how hard I try to describe what happened next, the “conversation” with God that occurred in the next few minutes, words fail to describe it. And as many times as I try to put it on paper, it sounds unbelievable, as will the rest of my tale.
But I “swear to God” everything, every word, is indeed true, as out of this world as it seems.
Everything written here is true. No matter how far fetched it may seem.
What basically occurred was a dialogue where I asked questions about which “career” or profession I was meant to serve in. I also knew in the depth of my being that this was a defining moment in my life, and I was willing to consider pursuing whatever course of action I was led to.
The first question was “Am I meant to continue working in radio/television?” My hands cooled noticeably. “Am I meant to teach?” my hands cooled off, but still stayed somewhat warm. The next question I was somewhat frightened by. “Do you want me to become a doctor?” I worked for the media department of a major medical school, I replaced someone who after years working there decided to enter the program, so it would be the first time one of us jumped to the other side of the lecture hall window.
I absolutely did not want to be a doctor, but I felt I had to cover all bases, and God forbid, I would do it if I was meant to. Thank God, my hands became ice cold. I didn’t have to face that career choice.
“So, am I meant to be a counselor?” I’ve often felt that drawn to the field of psychology or social work. My hands warmed a bit, about the same temperature as when I asked about being a teacher. I was confused, teacher and counselor? What did this mean? Then I remembered Joanne’s parting words and I knew I had to ask. “So, you want me to be a minister?”
I know, it sounds unbelievable, but my hands became extremely hot, and a peaceful “glow” seemed to infuse my being accompanied by a sense of having a purpose. I sat there basking in this feeling during the meditation, and a little freaked out through the rest of the service.
I was an usher that night, and before the end of service, I shook off the feeling and slipped out of my seat to my position at one of the side doors at the back of the sanctuary.
At the end of service instead of heading to the usual reception line in the lobby, Rev. Lynch charged to my station, pulled me aside and quite pointedly asked me “what the hell happened to you during my meditation?” She told me that it appeared to her that I was surrounded by a glowing light, and ‘hovering 6 inches off my seat. She gave me a “knowing” look when I told her what had happened and offered to help me anyway that she could.
She immediately took me by the arm to see her husband Guy, the senior minister to have me tell him what occurred. He didn’t seem as enthused by this revelation as she was, of course he hadn’t seen what his wife did from the stage during service and had heard the “I want to be a minister” declaration hundreds of times before. He said he had a “test” to see if anyone really had a calling and wasn’t just enamored with the idea.
Of course, the irony of the situation was that I was NOT enamored with the idea at all, in fact my mind was screaming “hell no I won’t go” and “God wants ME to be a minister, is he high or what?” And had I not been caught literally red handed (and floating/glowing evidently) it probably would probably have been forgotten or stifled like the proclamation by Joanne that came before.
Guy’s “test” he said was for me to teach Sunday school for a year, and if after that I still felt that way, he’d recommend me. So off I marched to the children’s wing, a place I don’t think I had ever ventured into before and signed up to teach the little ones.
And teach I did, after going through the background check and training I was tossed into a room with another teacher and a gaggle of amazing 5th and 6th graders and proceeded to have both the time of my life with them each week in class and the most terrifying time outside of it trying to keep one step ahead of them in the lessons and trying to come up with creative ways to teach them, all the while maintaining my status with them as “cool.”
I pulled out all stops with them, bringing elements of the experiential work I was involved with in my mythopoetic men’s groups, my love of arts and crafts and even African drumming. It was a heady time, a weekly mix of exhilaration and terror.
And it was also the perfect distraction from actually thinking about the whole minister thing for a couple of years.
Something to think about, a lesson from scripture- Adam wasn’t sent forth from the Garden of Eden because he sat under a tree studying truth principles all day. He chose not to listen to God’s message. That’s the amazing thing about free will, it allows us to ultimately choose whether we’re up for the challenge or learning the lesson that God has willed.
That’s why we often keep walking down the same road day after day and stepping into the same pothole. Until we decide to take a different road. Marianne Williamson calls this all too human foible a “Yeah but, God.” The tendency that we have to tell God what our plans are.
In reality I let fear keep me from my path. I talked about going to ministerial school, yet I’d never actually do anything about applying. I was too old, I couldn’t afford tuition, and they wouldn’t want me anyway.
And God was high at the time.
Yeah but, God. I may have held onto the dream, in some dim corner of my mind, but like many others in my life, I probably would never actualize it.
I left the church for a year to assist one of the associate ministers in starting her own church I set up her media department and served on her sermon advisory, or as she called it. “Imagineering,” team.
I ran from the calling for another couple years and the avoidance of it plunged me into another dark period.
I returned to COT just in time to greet Marianne Williamson as she joined us as our spiritual leader. In January of 1999 Marianne announced her intention to start a Lay Ministry Leadership/Chaplaincy program. I became one of the first class of fifty to enter the intense program. Once again, the idea of ministerial school was on the back burner, probably forever. Maybe participating in this program at the church was good enough for God. “Lay minister” that’s good enough, right?
Several things happened in rapid succession about 6 months into the chaplaincy program, and the order of them is unclear, but everything came crashing upon me as a spiritual 2X4 in the head.
One Sunday instead of a normal church service Marianne Williamson opted to have a congregational Q&A. I was given a wireless mic and would go around to whoever wanted to ask a question. One of the people who raised their hand, and I went to mic was a tall, striking African American woman. She talked about having moved back to Michigan to care for her elderly mother and was wondering about how to discern what God had in store for her next.
Her voice was powerful and very familiar to us. I can’t recall her name 20 years later, but it turned out she was up until then one of the “voices” of CNN. Where James Earl Jones was known as the male voice, she was the female one you would often hear saying “This is CNN.”
She went on to explain that she had worked at CNN and moved back to Detroit to care for her mother. And now that whatever the situation had passed, she was floundering. She said that she no longer had a desire to go back into the media and wasn’t sure what she was meant to do next. And wasn’t sure how to even figure it out.
The very first thing that Marianne said in response was “Girl, with a voice like yours you should be a minister.”
The woman actually admitted that she had leanings towards that at one point but felt that she was too old, too imperfect, too…
All the thoughts that had passed through my head over the years and were still making a space in there came out of her mouth.
For many reasons something about her and her story touched me. I think part of it had to do with the fact that I too had a background in media, having worked all my life in radio, television and media production. So, I felt a kinship with her story.
As Marianne moved on to the next person, I ducked out of the sanctuary and went into the office rooting in the rolodex to find the number of Unity’s Urban Ministerial School here in Detroit. One of the few places outside of Unity Village to train would be ministers. I had actually visited it years before at the start of my “adventure.”
After writing down the number I also wrote a note to the woman explaining that I was one of the chaplains at the church and had some information for her and suggested we meet after service in the lobby.
We met up and I told her a little of my own story, and my background, and told her about the Urban School program. We walked out to her car and talked some more. She gave me a hug, thanking me profusely and saying she’d think about calling them.
As I made my way back across the parking lot feeling happy to have helped someone I was overtaken by an odd sensation, a “voice” inside my head that wasn’t my own. But it was a voice I was familiar with, a voice that had often protected me, guided me, and sometimes pushed me into places I sure as hell didn’t want to go, even if I was ultimately meant to.
“Michael, it was really great that you gave her the number to the Urban School, and talked to her about ministry, but aren’t you supposed to make that call yourself? Remember that night with the burning hands?”
“Sigh, yes God… one day.”
I walked back into the church guiltily trying to still that annoying “Still small voice.”
On Sundays after church a group of us chaplains from the first class would usually go out to lunch and to a movie or something. As we finished praying with people we would gather on the central stairway, until everyone was finished and then we’d decide on an activity.
When I reentered the church, my team was gathered waiting for me. As I walked up to greet them, I heard one of the group mentioning that “It” was happening on Thursday night.
“So, what are we doing Thursday night?” I innocently inquired. Not having any idea what was about to unfold for me, over the next week.
“The Urban School is having their open house, we thought we’d check it out.”
What the bloody hell? I just get finished telling that woman about the Urban School, THEN get “nudged” about my own calling, and now this?
“So, we’re all going to go, right?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yeah,” one of them said “we’ll all go, but we won’t sign any papers or anything, we’ll just check it out.”
Sigh, “Ok, if we’re all going, I’m in.” I say resignedly. And we head out for lunch.
More celestial 2×4’s, just what I needed.
So here I was confronted once again with the inevitable truth that I was supposed to succumb to this whether I wanted to or not. Every time I tried to avoid it, something big hit me in the face, and no matter how much I tried to sweep this aside as mere coincidence this was just too in my face to avoid.
At least my fellow chaplains were going. It would just be a visit, a field trip, like when we went to a museum together; we’d just look but wouldn’t touch.
And not commit to anything. Not sign any papers.
I knew myself well enough to understand that I could still talk myself out of it by Thursday, and I also knew that if I did so, the Universe would still keep kicking my ass until I did something about it. I knew that I needed someone outside of myself to hold me accountable to going on Thursday, no matter what.
Back then I was a smoker and would take a morning smoke break outside at the same time every day with two older women who were administrative assistants for a couple departments in the med school. I am not meaning to sound sexists in my referring to them as “tough broads,” actually that was how they often called themselves. They were wonderful women who didn’t take crap from anyone, including the often-arrogant physicians they dealt with on a daily basis.
I knew instinctively that if I asked them to hold me to going on Thursday, they would. And that I’d rue the day on Friday if I didn’t go.
After the usual pleasantries, we got around to the typical Monday “how was your weekend?” catchup. I told them the whole story, starting with the burning hands years before, the years of running from it, and all of what happened on Sunday. And all my doubts, and fears, everything. When I looked at them, both of these tough as nails women were misty eyed. Both of them looked at me and said they thought I’d make a wonderful minister.
I told them that in the next few days I would talk myself out of going to the open house, and that I wanted them to hold me to it.
They agreed, saying they’d nag me every day until then. And if I didn’t go Thursday night, not to bother showing up Friday because they’d kick my (then) skinny ass.
Throughout the next week, everyone from the chaplain group backed out going, and every day as my apprehensions continued to grow, my smoking buddies kept holding me to going, just as I requested.
Thursday rolled around and I walked out of work at 5pm to the realization that I would be going alone, and also although I knew where the Urban School was, I had no idea what time the open house was. Having been around Unity Churches for awhile I knew that typically weeknight events began and 7 or 7:30 and figured this would be no different, so I had a couple hours to kill.
The Urban School at that time was in an old mansion near the Boston Edison neighborhood in Detroit, not too far from the medical school. A five-minute drive at most.
I remembered from being there before that it wasn’t on one of the more gentrified streets in the area, there were still abandoned and burned-out places on the street, it wasn’t an area I necessarily wanted to hang out in my car waiting.
I knew one other thing, that if I went home, I would not leave the house again that evening, and I also knew that if I didn’t go, I would never hear the end of it.
So, I did the only logical thing to do in this situation.
I told God MY plans.
“Ok God,” I said as I walked to my car, “here’s the deal, if you really want me to do this, to become a minister, then whoever I am supposed to speak to is going to be at the Urban School when I get there. If no one is there, I’m turning around and heading home.”
I drove up Woodward Avenue telling myself over and over that if no one was there, God was kidding, and I was going to be off the hook for this whole minister thing, never to concern myself with it ever again. I turned on the side street and pulled up in front of the house next door. I think I registered that there were no other cars around, which just confirmed the fact that this wasn’t meant to be.
I strode with singular focus up the long walkway to the front door, fully telling myself at that point that if it was meant to be the door would be unlocked or someone would answer my knock and that would be it.
I turned the knob on the large door. It was locked. I knocked and waited, no answer.
I knocked again.
Still no answer.
I knew it. It wasn’t meant to be. (Yay!)
Just as I was about to turn around and walk back triumphantly to my car free of this silly notion that this was anything more than some unrelated series of coincidences that I had read way too much into, I heard a voice behind me.
“Excuse me, are you here for the Urban School open house?”
I turned around and on the street in front of the house there now was a Mary Kay pink car, which must have pulled up while I was knocking and I hadn’t heard, or it just magically appeared (at this point I wouldn’t be surprised.)
A woman was looking at me through the open passenger window.
I walked up to the car and leaned in to talk to her. And I proceeded to, at five hundred words a minute “verbally vomit” my entire life’s story- all the way from my depression to Joanne’s prediction, the hands burning experience, the years teaching Sunday school, the chaplaincy training, the previous Sunday, the women who were going to kick my ass if I didn’t show up, and my demand of God on the way here, that the right person was going to be here when I arrived.
Heck I probably told her the name of my first pet and favorite ice cream flavor.
She looked at me kind of startled at the sheer amount of verbiage I had just tossed at her, then introduced herself and said, “I’m the director of admissions for the Urban School, the open house isn’t until later, I’m scheduled to meet Rev. Ruth, the director here, who is on the way from her church. But I’m going to skip the meeting and have her speak to you instead.”
(Admissions director, shit, really?)
Rev. Ruth arrived, and I was led into a waiting area while the two women talked in an office. After about 10 or 15 nail biting minutes waiting, I heard the door open.
“Michael, would you come in here please?”
I walked tentatively into the office and got what would be the very first of several years’ worth of soul piercing stares from Rev. Ruth Mosely, founder of the Unity School.
I’ve described Rev. Ruth over the years as being an avatar, a mystic. She was a small woman with a big powerful soul. Her amazing story and the history of the School, the first Unity School outside of the main campus in Missouri has been documented elsewhere. She was a dynamo, a powerhouse and someone who could read you with just one look.
And read me she did. She looked at me with a smile on her face and a look that stripped me to my very soul. As I walked in, she was already standing there with a paper in her hand, she said, “Yes, you’re supposed to be here, sign this.”
I vaguely recall “butting” her and her interrupting me at every argument I tried to make as to why this was a mistake, and she kept saying, “The story I just heard proves you’re supposed to be here. And even without that I KNOW you’re supposed to be here. So, sign the paper.”
And so, I signed the paper and filled out all the other forms, and was already accepted before my possible future classmates arrived for the open house.
I recall vaguely during introductions standing up and saying something like “I’m still not sure I’m supposed to be here” and Rev. Ruth shushing me and saying once again that it was too late, I was already there.
I left the open house, and the first thing I did was call one of my dearest friends and mentors, Rev. John Laycock, an Episcopal priest who I had known since the beginning of my recovery from depression through men’s work. We were part of a group who led an annual men’s retreat. John had also been supportive of my original calling to ministry and knew of my years of doubts and fears.
We cried on the phone together.
That next evening, Friday, John, the two other facilitators and I was supposed to go into a mini retreat together. The next weekend was scheduled for our annual “Man Alive” retreat, and our tradition the weekend before was that we would lock ourselves into one of our homes and have a dress rehearsal of the pieces we were going to deliver to our participants, as well as critique the exercises and go over the logistics.
And this time celebrate my acceptance of my calling after all those years running from it.
I went to work the next day and was hugged profusely by my “tough broads.” Still not sure what the hell I was doing.
I ran home, grabbed my overnight bag and headed to Rev. John’s home a few blocks away for our “lock in.”
We celebrated the first night and went through some of the planning and logistics for our weekend together and for the next week and went to bed.
But that’s not the end of the story…
We were woken up the next morning by John’s phone ringing. It was a member of his congregation letting him know of the death of a family member and asking if John could come over.
We opted to cancel the rest of our weekend together figuring that we’d been doing this long enough that we could get by without doing the lock in, and I headed home about 10am Saturday Morning.
As I was unlocking the door of my flat, I heard what sounded like a voice on my answering machine. I pushed open the door and rushed to the phone with my coat still on and bag in hand, but it was too late, the caller had hung up.
I played back the recording. The call was from a Rev. Sandy Scott, the new associate minister of the Church of Today. We hadn’t even met yet.
She sounded kind of stressed and a little weirded out on the phone, she said something like, “I know this is going to sound weird but,” she said she was Divinely guided to call me and ask for my help with a memorial service for a family that had been touched by two murder suicides a year apart.
I called the number she had just left, and she was surprised that the return was so quick, she was a little startled still, and said again that she wasn’t sure why she was led to call me, she hadn’t even met me yet.
She had woken up stressed out that morning but with the “message” in her head to call “Michael Copado,” she didn’t even know who I was, she said she ran from her house on the grounds to the office and looked me up in the same rolodex I had found the Urban School info on. And saw I was a chaplain amongst other things.
And had just got back inside her place when I called.
She said again she was freaked out about this service. She told me she had run an AIDS ministry in San Francisco and had lost 90 percent of her congregation, but she felt that for some reason this was the most difficult service she was ever called on to perform, and she not knowing why, begged for my help.
I agreed to help and told her about my entering into ministerial school. She laughed loudly and said “Well maybe that was why I was led to call you,” that this was supposed to be my first ministerial assignment, helping her out.
I jumped into the shower, threw a suit on and went to the church for the memorial.
Sandy met me at the lobby of the church and explained that it was a group of women, and this was the one-year anniversary of the second murder/suicide, and the second year since the first one. She further explained that she told them that I was a student minister, and I would be there to support them, and they were glad I was going to be there.
We prayed for strength and guidance, and blessing on my ministerial school journey, then she said she needed to get her bible out of her office, and for me to go into the chapel.
I walked up to the door of the chapel and tried to make out through the stained-glass window what was going on. I could make out two rows of chairs with people sitting on each side, and what appeared to be someone standing at the front with their back to the door looking at the altar placed there.
I gently opened the door, and everyone seated looked towards me. The woman standing by the altar turned slowly around.
It was Joanne, the therapist who started me on the journey all those years ago.
She was the matriarch of this family who had been so touched by tragedy.
She looked at me, and through her tears smiled, she said, “I told you you’d become a minister, didn’t I?” She then laughed, “Life comes full circle doesn’t it? You came to me for support once, and now here you are supporting me.”
She spent the entire memorial with me holding her.
That’s the end.
I want to reiterate, as unbelievable as all this may seem, this is 100% true. I swear to God. There’s actually a few smaller “God Moments” that also happened during that time, but those aren’t as mind-blowing as these larger events. Every time I have doubts (and I have doubts all the time) and every curve ball that has been tossed my way where ministry is concerned, this is what has kept me going, the sheer craziness of what happened.
No matter what I tried to do to avoid it, I kept getting dragged back to the reality that I’m supposed to be doing this.