In a little over two weeks, I will be leaving for Olympic National Park to begin my service with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. From everything I have heard, it is sure to be a life-changing experience. It is going to be the best summer of my life, and the hardest summer of my life, and I couldn’t be more excited.
For the past year, I have been searching for my purpose. I left the University of Michigan’s music school in January 2017 and took a semester off from college to visit various Roman Catholic religious orders: the Benedictines at St. Meinrad and St. Vincent Archabbeys; the Trappists, or Cistercians, at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani; the Capuchins at St. Bonaventure Monastery; and the Jesuits, who have locations all over the world. I was also working at Kroger, and attending classes at community college after finishing my “off” semester.
I became pretty heavily involved with the Jesuits after a while, although I greatly appreciated the other orders I visited. I was certain I was going to end up a Jesuit priest someday. But while spending the month of July, 2017, with other Jesuit candidates on the Rosebud Indian reservation in South Dakota, I began to grow restless. Thoughts of St. Meinrad began to return, as did thoughts of a family. I scheduled a visit with St. Meinrad for December, and prayed for clarity and stability.
After my visit to St. Meinrad, I spent a week-long silent retreat with the Jesuits. This, I figured, would be the ultimate test, the final step needed to truly discern my calling. I have no way of knowing if it was really the final step, but for now, my girlfriend and I are very happy together, and I see no reason that will ever change. But even uncovering my vocation on that silent retreat did not lend me the stability I was craving. I had varied interests and varying degrees of passion, but felt adrift, floating from one activity to the next with no sense of permanence accompanying me. I needed something long-term, something that would tie me down for a while and give me time to rest in its relative permanence.
I discovered ACMNP purely by chance. I was looking for something to do during the summer, and Googled “national park summer jobs.” I spent a while searching on the US Jobs website, but I was either underqualified for or not interested in any of the positions. I returned to the main results page and clicked the third link, a list of summer park activities for young people. ACMNP was the third one on the list. Their site claimed I could live and work in a national park while leading worship services and performing ministry. Not only would I spend three months in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but there were no fees or payments to be made, aside from a relatively inexpensive conference fee.
I thought it was a scam, at first. There was no way there wasn’t some kind of hidden cost, or a devious contract clause where the organization claimed dominion over all of your goings-on at the park. But the more research I did, the more impressed I was. Everything lined up and checked out. I applied and was placed in Olympic National Park. I’m writing this having just returned from the annual preparatory conference in Denver.
My journey to Olympic begins May 12 and extends to September 30. I will not have the option to leave the park to go start something else. I won’t be able to decide I’d rather work back home this summer, or at a different park. I will have to stick it out, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I will be afforded the freedom that accompanies commitment. I will be able to flourish by focusing my efforts on something for an extended (sort of) period of time, rather than randomly aiming bursts of energy at short-term projects. I anticipate I will leave Olympic a better, more focused person, with more defined goals, more concrete passions and beliefs, and a better sense of self.