A Calling Without Repentance
By Fred Pruitt
(I first wrote this in January, 2008. John Bunting and I had been doing our sharing-and-encourage-the-brethren trips for about two and a half years by then, having started in October, 2005. At the time I felt it was too self-indulgent to send out, so I never did. But now, having stored it for about ten and a half years or so on the shelf, I thought it a good time to bring it out again, tweak it a bit, and share it in these current times.)
From 2008 and from 2018
There are times when we know that we are at a new launching point, a point of departure from one place where we’ve been for a long time, into a new place where we have never been before. We all have those times. The night before our wedding. Graduation Week. Sitting strapped in the capsule of a Saturn rocket waiting for the lift-off.
It’s a really exciting, tense time. Things are happening fast. The new is coming in faster than the old can go out. Everything up to this point has been to get to this place, this moment. And here it is, pretty soon now, it’s about to happen. We’re going to say our vows. We’ll walk up to the platform and get our diploma. The countdown is coming to an end and the rocket is going to take off. We are finally realizing that we are at that moment, when everything we’ve been gearing up for throughout all our preparation days is about to happen.
If there is time to reflect at all, we could remember every thing and every day that led to this moment. Every thing that prepared us for it, without our even knowing it. Sitting there, strapped in our space suit chock full of sensors, communicators and life-support systems, maybe there’s time to remember being a little kid and making a space ship out of a refrigerator box, imagining with only a child’s imagination, that we were launching out into the depths of space and exploring alien worlds. And we might think, “What that child’s vision and desire has brought forth!”
This is a time like that now. I would say I am speaking just for myself, but I know it is more than that. Because we are all interconnected, and my story intersects everyone else’s, and everyone else’s intersects mine. So I think it is for everybody, that I tell a little more of this story.
Very shortly after the Lord met us that Christmas night in 1972 and changed everything in the blink of an eye, as if that wasn’t enough, He did something else that turned everything upside down and I’ve never known right-side up since.
I was minding my own business one day in early ‘73, sitting in our blue velvet easy chair in our living room, being a good Christian boy and reading my Bible. I had fought that book so hard, for so long, that when the scales fell from my eyes and I began to hear God speak in me from it, it became the most precious thing I had ever known. It was like a chest bulging with treasure, that every time I opened showed me a new piece of glittering gold or a new rare precious gem. It is still that way with me.
I was reading in 2 Timothy when the words came. All the words in the Bible had become enlightened to me, but up until that time mostly in a general sense. But THESE words, THAT day, THAT moment, seemed to come right out of heaven, with a special light about them, and I knew they were specially FOR ME! And in the same instant, I also knew they were more than the words on the paper; they were a commandment, a commission, a life’s work, a living empowerment, spoken to me in three little words, along with the rest of the passage, that have thundered inside me every day since: “PREACH THE WORD.”
(2 Tim 4:2-5 – “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”)
Now that sounds very dramatic and almost the stuff of Hollywood, but it is as true as true can be. That is exactly what happened. I jumped up and started running around shouting, “Hallelujah,” because I knew this word was true and had been spoken to ME! I hadn’t a clue as to what it meant or how it would happen. I just knew He had spoken, and that I was “in for it” now.
(So began everything that has led us into this current moment.)
“Okay,” I thought, “I’m going to be a preacher. Where do I go?”
I went to see Bob Beeland, the rector of the Episcopal church we were attending. Bob was a believer, a charismatic, an Anglophile, a friend of Norman Grubb, and a L.A. (Lower Alabama) aristocrat. Therefore he spoke with an aristocratic, Anglophile-effected, lower-Alabama southern drawl. And he was a huge man compared to me. We were sitting in his study in the parish house when I told Bob I wanted to enter the ministry. He sighed and leaned his massive frame back into his chair. He hemmed and hawed, and then in that slow aristocratic drawl said, “Well, one cannot just stand up in the Episcopal Church and announce, ‘I got a callin’ to preach,’ and they make you a priest of the Episcopal Church.” Bob then went on to explain how one had to do things like finish college or university, go to seminary, etc., to become a priest, all of which of course took years and years. (I had left college a while before, well-short of completion.)
To my young mind (22) then, that was just too far off. I felt I had to have something more immediate to get this thing going. Not long after that, Cary, the fellow who had prayed with us to receive Jesus that previous Christmas Day, wrote me a letter and invited us to join the ministry he was part of, in a church in Monterey, California.
We went through a bit of rigmarole making our decision to go, did the “fleece” thing, so that after a time we determined it was the Lord’s will that we should go to California. I can’t get the image of the Beverly Hillbillies out of my mind when I think of our trip in that ’59 VW bus. What made it so much like the Hillbillies was the fact that we had our rocking chair in the back, and as we crossed country at <50 mph, alternately on the famous Route 66, and the yet to be fully completed Interstate-40, we rocked two month old John, our first child, the whole 2,400 miles from Rome to Monterey.
I knew we had come to the right place when we arrived. It really had been a shot in the dark to go, because we only went on Cary’s word, and the Lord’s. Of course everybody, friends and family, were now convinced beyond doubt that we were crazy to the max. We literally didn’t know another thing about the place. But oh the delight to find a community of young believers, all “on-fire” for the Lord, whose sole purpose was as a group to “preach the gospel to every creature.”
We were told on arrival that this was a “ministerial training course,” that our pastor was an “apostle,” and were immediately taken into the full-time community. They had just purchased a huge house and grounds a block from the church building. It had formerly been the residence for an order of Roman Catholic nuns. There were two out-buildings on the property. Our little family was given one of them. It was a one-room concrete block little house with a bathroom that had only a sink and toilet. No tub or shower. But that was okay. Anything for the Lord. We bathed at the brother’s and sister’s houses, respectively, and bathed John in a little plastic tub on the floor with water heated by a hot plate. We took most of our meals in the kitchen at the church, where we ate communally with the other brothers and sisters.
We started every weekday at the church building (a block away) with an hour of Bible study at 7:00 AM, followed by an hour of group prayer, then classes in evangelism, pastoral studies, etc. Depending on the day, we might finish the morning’s devotions by going out and witnessing on the streets, down at Fisherman’s Wharf, or going door-to-door. The rest of the day we all had jobs to do. We were remodeling the church at the time, so most of us young men worked on the construction project, while the ladies did other things.
We literally sang songs to God while we worked, or we spoke about the scriptures and the works of God in our own lives. It was like being in a sort-of first century Pentecostal monastery, except we had spouses (a big plus). I’ll have to say that at least part of that early time was one of the most joy-filled times of my life. We woke up praising the Lord, went to work praising the Lord, and went to bed at night praising the Lord. We were mostly very new believers with little mature knowledge in the things of God, but oh, did we have zeal and love aplenty!
Really, what a time it was! One of my earliest memories of being with the fellowship in Monterey, was a wedding between two congregants featuring original songs and music by a former member, all of which was exceptionally moving and unforgettable to this day (45 years ago). And then afterward, our two Georgia friends, Jim and Cary, and I drove down toward Big Sur and camped on the side of Pacific Coast Highway a couple hundred feet above the ocean and several million light years, below the stars. At the time, it seemed about equidistant! It was truly sensory overload!
It reminds me of George Harrison’s lyrics:
It’s all too much, it’s all too much
When I look into your eyes, your love is there for me
And the more I go inside, the more there is to see
It’s all too much for me to take
The love that’s shining all around you
Everywhere, it’s what you make
For us to take, it’s all too much
It’s all too much for me to take
The love that’s shining all around here
All the world’s a birthday cake
So take a piece but not too much
Too much …. Too much …. Too much
Time doesn’t permit telling much more of this part of the story, but maybe I will one day. After some six years in that training, (the years I had wanted not to have to endure in order to become an Episcopal priest), along with a whole bunch of others, I was ordained into the ministry. I got a Cross pen (which has long since gone), a certificate (which must be with the Cross pen), a title, (“Reverend,” which I’ve never once used), and fervent effectual Holy Ghost prayers.
I have never been able to use the “ordination” we were given, since there were no other of our churches out there in the world. We had planned there would be, but it never came about. However, I’ve never forgotten the prayers and receiving the laying on of hands for the work of God. It was no light thing. That has always been a serious matter to me, and I took the prayers and the commission of the “mantle of Elijah,” and to be “filled with the Holy Ghost for empowerment in the work,” as serious business with the Lord. (And in later years, when I tried to do a Jonah thing and run away, the Lord reminded me that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Rom 11:29). (Once caught, no escape!)
But the next year, the Lord took us out of there and back to Georgia. About four months after we settled back into Rome in 1980, Janis and I had our first sit-down with Norman Grubb, who told us, “You’ve got the Teacher in you!”
END PART ONE