by Tori Gilliland
In August of this year, I will leave SJD to spend one final year in seminary at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) in Alexandra, Virginia. I’m incredibly sad to leave and at the same time bubbling with excitement. My Diploma in Anglican Studies year at VTS will be the final leg of a journey towards ordination to the priesthood that began in 2018.
Before coming to St. John the Divine, I had been working on my Master of Divinity while serving as a youth minister at a small nondenominational church in west Houston. After volunteering with a local youth group, I felt a strong and consistent tug leading me toward full-time ministry work. At the time, I wasn’t sure if that meant being called to be a pastor, youth director, or perhaps something different. I just knew that seminary was the next logical step and that, somehow, we’d figure it out along the way.
And figure it out somehow, we did. In 2020 I started working here at SJD as the coordinator in the connect ministry office. By that time, I was halfway through my Master of Divinity degree and was in a very rough patch in seminary and ministry. I knew God was leading me somewhere else, I just wasn’t sure where. Through my studies, I had felt a consistent pull towards Anglican theology and the Episcopal church, but, until interviewing and working for St. John the Divine, I had never even stepped foot in an Episcopal church. The first two services I remember attending were a noon-day Eucharist in the Church – masks and small individual communion cups and all – and The Table (when all the burgundy chairs in the Hall Life Center were spread about 30 miles apart from one another!). It was my first time back inside any church building since the pandemic hit, and my first time participating in an Episcopal eucharist service.
I loved it. I loved the services, I loved working with the connect team, and I was blown away by the faith and hospitality of the members here. What I had experienced as a dying fire for ministry work was ignited again in new ways. As my job progressed and I began to work more with the young professionals and young adult ministry, I started to wonder through prayer and conversations with those close to me if the original pull I felt to ministry was the beginning of a call to the priesthood.
Often, I think we fall into a line of thinking that says we must decide something first, and then our actions and understanding fall into place. Set a goal, and then go for it. We decide what we want to cook for dinner, go to the grocery store, cook it, and then eat. But for me, my call was very much the other way around. It was through doing first that I found ways to understand my vocation and ultimately my faith. It was almost like I was building a recipe for how to cook retroactively as I savored each bite. God met me the same way he meets us at the eucharist table each week. I truly feel that it was God’s leading through the parishioners, my work here, and the overlap of my last semester of seminary with Lent and Easter that finally brought everything together.
I both graduated with my M.Div. and began the discernment process with the Diocese of Texas in the Spring of 2022. After meeting with the most incredible discernment committee over the summer, the Commission on Ministry in the fall, and lots of prayer, I was granted Postulancy right before Christmas. After completing my Diploma of Anglican studies this year, I will spend a summer as a chaplaincy intern at a hospital and hopefully be ordained as a deacon in 2024. I hope to keep in touch with everyone at St. John the Divine and am so grateful to the most amazing of parishes for discerning my call alongside me. I truly feel like I have been formed by our church and can’t see my call to the priesthood apart from our time together. My dream in forty years is to plant a church on Mars, and who knows, maybe it can be a plant of St. John the Divine!
While we rejoice in Tori’s calling, we will all miss her energy, vision, and care of others. Please make plans to celebrate with Tori on her last Sunday, July 9
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