I was blessed to be born into a Christian family. I cannot remember a time when I did not know Jesus. Ours was also a military family. The church was always a center of stability in our lives. My mother would find the “spiritually alive” chaplains and I was always in the Sunday School, children’s choir, and acolyte ministries. I became an Eagle Scout and earned the God and Country Award. As a result, though I am a “cradle Episcopalian,” I had a variety of denominational influences through various army chaplains in my spiritual formation. This has given me a deep appreciation for the wider body of Christ that is very much a part of my ministry today.
Like many college students during the sixties, I went through a time of spiritual searching and began to question the faith that I had received as a child. Out of that search, by God’s grace, came a deepened and conscious intellectual and spiritual commitment to the scriptures and to Christ. As a Graduate Fellow at the University of California at Davis. I was the only professed Christian in my graduate department which led to numbers of interesting conversations. As a result, one of my self-described “agnostic” Jewish professors came to me for counsel about a situation with which he was struggling. Afterward he said, “Jackson, you should be a priest” and I knew he was right. I completed my Master’s degree, withdrew from the Doctoral program and entered the ordination process.
I attended Nashotah House because of its focus on a disciplined spiritual life. After two years, I decided to do an intern year in an inner-city black, anglo-catholic, ghetto parish in Compton, California. My ministry was to work with street kids. The street culture was very different from anything I had experienced and the young people’s needs were overwhelming. Not surprisingly, I hit the wall. I didn’t know what to do and began to question my call to the priesthood. My supervising priest, Fr. Llewellyn Williams, called me in, prayed with me, and told me to do three things: (1) read the New Testament to see how the disciples needed to change before Christ could use them, (2) pray for the Holy Spirit to show me what needed to change in my life, and (3) wait for God to send me the people I needed to learn from. As I did these things, God was faithful and sent three people into my life. Two of them were ex-gang leaders who had met Christ in prison and had their lives radically transformed. Christ knit us together as a team and amazing things began to happen. They taught me the difference between knowing about Christ and knowing him in a more intimate way and how to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit. . My faith moved from my head to my heart. I learned that ministry isn’t just what I do for God, it is also what he wants to do through me. Jesus humbled me, rescued me from my own self-reliance, and continues to transform my life.