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Something caught alight inside

Paul Reissmann at ordination service

Continuing our series of articles on our newest ordinands, Rev. Paul Reissmann traces his path to ministry as an unfolding of revelations and a kindling of passion for service in the world.

Lake Odessa: Central UMC

Paul Reissmann and his wife
Paul and his wife, Ashleigh, pose on their wedding day. He notes, “It’s a sacred hallmark of my life, a person who fulfills the promise that I am seen and loved and safe, that I can truly do all that God has put before me. She’s evidence to me that God has faith in who I am.” ~ photo courtesy Paul Reissmann

Flames crackle against charcoal piles that shift in the pit, and I sit on the second to last bench on the left-hand side, praying, “If you’re real, make yourself known to me.” At 13, I was at the precipice of my faith. Until this moment, the story of Jesus was just that — a story. What did it mean for me as I sat on a fireside bench at Wesley Woods in Dowling, MI? How was this story my story? I longed for a sense of presence, and little did I know that I was not the first person to wish for something so intimately true to my heart that it could no longer be denied — that I was so loved that the God of all things would give their life to prove it to me.

The wind built up in the trees. Like bellows, a gale was inhaled into the darkness of the forest behind me before blowing through the thicket, swaying the pines like hair on the back of my arm. But the winds did not chill me. In some mysterious way, it filled me with a presence of love that I had not felt in the catacombs of my heart — a feeling of peace and fellowship. As an only child, it is difficult to express the loneliness that comes from being the only person your age in a home, much more the only kid in your neighborhood, much more one who marches to the sound of a different drum. I was different, I was anxious, I was unaffirmed. Until this moment, I had not felt at home in my skin.

Mosaic of Jesus on the waters
When Paul visited the mosaic chapels at the Magdala Center in Israel, he found this image depicting the story of Jesus on the water, which continues to define him as he wanders from lake to lake in his ministry. He says, “It started at Van Auken Lake, led me more meaningfully to the shore of Lake Michigan, to Lake Macatawa in Holland and around Lake Michigan for seminary, and now I find myself near Jordan and Tupper Lakes near Lansing. Whenever I’m called onto the water, it’s because Christ has faith in me that I can stand on the waves.” ~ photo courtesy Paul Reissmann

It would take me graduating high school to begin listening to the question I was being encouraged to ask when I was alone with my thoughts. When looking back on this time of my life, people saw the calling coming to the surface. Often, those called are the last to hear it, much less see it. I served at camps and as a youth director, but I had not yet felt the worthiness of such a distinguished vocation as pastor. I struggled with my inadequacies, all of which were plain for me to see, inadequacies that I felt disqualified me. But my friend — not yet my wife — spoke to me amid the loud doubts. “Everyone sins,” she said, “you’re not disqualified because you’ve made mistakes.” Flames crackled as they wrapped around the logs within the fire ring outside my family home. The lake was auburn glass at sunset, and I felt the familiar and quickening comfort that, for me, now had a face.

I have grown to see that worthiness mirrored in my marriage and through the working friendships I’ve made at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo. In 2013, I moved to Western Michigan University to pursue degrees in creative writing and communication studies. Within a few weeks of moving into the Wesley Intentional Living Community on campus, I found myself questioning this call more intentionally, and something caught alight. Bathed in opportunities to grow, I found myself quickly transforming into a leader of the church who would later go on to seminary and then become an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, the tradition that held me throughout my youth and into adulthood, that allowed me to question and explore, that allowed me to struggle safely. Ours is a special tradition that emphasizes the journey of becoming.

Worshiping at a campus ministry
Paul worships as a student at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo. “This campus ministry,” he recalls, “was the holding place for me as my call to ministry came to the forefront of my life and purpose in my education. It helped me redefine my faith and gave me the permission to become the ordained elder I am today.” ~ photo courtesy Paul Reissmann

With the love of my wife, family, friends, mentors, and all the saints behind them, I am here. I exist on purpose; I was willed into life by the desires of others. A lonely boy is now caught up in the whirling of God’s universe, surrounded by ancestors of faith, enriched by the authentic joy of those around him. The risk has always been clear: You may fall in love with this world and the people who occupy it; you may just find everything you’ve ever looked for. And haven’t I?

Last Updated on February 13, 2024

The Michigan Conference