When I accepted the calling to ordained ministry, I clearly remember calling my parents, to share that decision with them. My mother answered the phone and I quickly told her of my decision. My announcement was met with an uncharacteristic silence (my mother was very verbal). I waited. And waited. Finally, she spoke.
“What are we supposed to call you?” she asked. It wasn’t exactly the response I expected. Somewhat tickled by her question, I couldn’t help myself and blurted out, “Your Most Holy Reverend Daughter, of course!” Not surprisingly, she quickly responded, “I will not!” And we both laughed and agreed she should continue to call me Yvonne.
My parents get an awful lot of credit for giving me the foundation that eventually led me to ordained ministry. My mom, Hazel Coon, was instrumental in connecting our church (FUMC-Victoria, TX) with the needs she encountered in our community. As an Early Childhood Special Education teacher, she had relationships and connection with many in our city who struggled with access to basic needs and was tireless in engaging our church to respond. My dad, Fred Coon, was a Certified Lay Speaker (that was the name at the time) who was often called upon for pulpit supply in the surrounding small towns. He served on various administrative committees and was an usher in the early service for years. Between the two of them and my own participation in youth ministry, I was blessed with a great foundation.
I also lived. I often refer to my years before ordination as “back when I was normal” because even the idea of being a minister conjures up many preconceived notions. I did not grow up or engage in adulthood with any expectation of serving in this vocation. I was active at my church and I appreciated the work my various pastors and their staff did but never imagined being on this side. God has a fantastic sense of humor!
It took me nearly nine years to complete my undergraduate degree. I got married very young, became a mother, then a single mother. I remarried and enjoyed raising my two sons while working as an account executive in the advertising department of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I was fortunate to be able to stop working for a time, as my children grew a bit older.
It was during that time that I started exploring options and trying to discern what might be next for me. A friend suggested seminary as a pathway to eventually teaching at the college level. I applied, with no thoughts of actually going into vocational ministry. About the time I received my acceptance letter to Brite (TCU), my mother-in-law was diagnosed with brain cancer at 56.
I often joke that seminary was a really expensive Bible study for me. I was raised Methodist but I really didn’t have much of an understanding of the Bible nor could I articulate a developed relationship with God. In my courses, I was like a sponge, soaking it all up and driving my family crazy as I consistently came home with “Guess what I learned today?!”
All that I was learning, coupled with the experience of walking with my mother-in-law through her cancer and treatments, really put me on the path toward ordination. I spoke with my pastor and was immediately granted a volunteer staff role (I worked for the church without pay!) as a way to explore and discern what God might be inviting me to do. Eventually, I acknowledged and accepted my calling.
I say “eventually” because I did struggle with it. My pre-conceived notions of what it meant to be a pastor didn’t line up with my own self-perception. I am incredibly human. I am aware that I have flaws and quirks. I really struggled to reconcile how I saw myself with how I perceived this role. It took a lot of conversations with various mentors, much prayer, and a significant amount of grace to lead me to understand that my calling to this role means I do this out of who I am, authentically, not who I think I’m supposed to be.
Between accepting the call and my first day here, my life has taken some exciting and heartbreaking turns. I am no longer married and am quite content in my singleness. My family now includes the most wonderful daughter-in-law I could hope for and the newest absolute joy of my life, my grandson. Both of my parents are now enjoying the promised eternal life. All of those changes plus all of my prior experiences have certainly contributed to who I am today – mom, grandmother, sister, pastor, and a profoundly grateful beloved child of God!
So, hello, my name is Yvonne!