Sometimes a call takes root early, and through the mentorship of others, the fertile soil of faith is tilled and nurtured as the vocation blossoms.
As the child of divorced parents, Olu Brown was raised “bi-denominational,” worshipping with his Presbyterian pastor father in New Jersey and fellowshipping with a local Baptist church in Lufkin, Texas with his mother. It was an arrangement, he says, that allowed for a “shared religious experience.”
“It was a great ecumenical upbringing that taught me a lot about theology,” says Brown.
An interview with Olu about his call story and ministry
But Brown says he did not know then that God was speaking to him as he prayed in those cross-country pews.
When he was in his early teens, a United Methodist Church was planted in his Texas hometown. It was a vibrant, casual congregation, and quickly attracted middle and high school adolescents and their families, including Brown’s.
“We were amazed and impressed because it was very easygoing congregation,” says Brown. “All of our friends and family were members there—it was really a great start for a growing faith community.”
The burgeoning teen and preteen population in the congregation led to youth-led worship services every fifth Sunday, an experience with which Brown became heavily involved.
“During our practice for one fifth Sunday I asked the pastor, Reverend Lawrence Young, if I could do the altar prayer,” recalls Brown. “He agreed, so I went home and wrote that prayer out word for word. The next Sunday I stood, shaking in my boots, and read that prayer.”
Later that afternoon, Rev. Young showed up at Brown’s front door.
“He said, ‘How would you feel about helping me out on Sunday mornings?’” says Brown. Brown agreed. Accepting that offer opened his heart to hear God’s gentle prodding toward a career in ministry.
The door was opened, and Brown walked through. Family and mentors continued to shape and mold his vocational journey, recognizing Brown’s gifts and encouraging him as he felt led by the spirit.
A touchstone moment in Brown’s call came during his senior year, when he asked his family if he could deliver the eulogy at his grandfather’s funeral.
“If there was ever a benchmark where I can clearly go back and say I heard the voice of God, it was during that funeral experience,” says Brown. “As I was coming to the close of that eulogy, I could hear a voice say, ‘I want to tell young people how to get to heaven.’ That was a defining moment—I knew what the rest of my life would be.”
Brown stayed in touch with Rev. Young through college, and after graduation, as Brown prepared to enroll at Interdenominational Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, Rev. Young encouraged Brown to apply for a youth pastor position at Cascade United Methodist Church. Brown decided to give it a chance.
“I literally took a leap of faith, and got on Interstate 20 with my Honda Civic. Twelve hours later found myself on the campus of ITC, trusting God that something great would happen. And something great did happen.”
The drive to Atlanta may have seemed like a leap of faith, but Brown says he knows his call is something more carefully designed. It’s the careful cultivation of a seed planted long ago.
“Really, for me, it was a series of moments that led to this Jeremiah scripture understanding that before we were born, God knew us,” says Brown.
“When we think about the ordination process, ultimately there is a wonderful Bishop who lays hands on us and tells us to take authority, but that experience taught me that long before a bishop or board of ordained ministry helps to move us to the ultimate part of that ordination process, there’s typically a person, or a small group of individuals, or a congregation that sees something in us long before we see it in ourselves.”
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