My neighbor has a bumper sticker that reads, “Got Purpose?” My eyes are immediately drawn to it every time she drives by our house. Depending on my mood that day, I find it either inspiring or haunting.
These days, these questions seem to be popular ones: What is your purpose? What is your sacred calling? Why did God put me here?
I usually count on Oprah Winfrey’s magazine to address this question at least a few times a year with a nice, easy quiz: Answer these three questions to find your purpose! (One always seems to be: “What would you do if given 3 months to live?” which would get me to an extended vacation in Hawaii, not necessarily closer to my purpose.)
Recently, I took a class called “Call: Co-Creation and the Commitment to Sacred Service” at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. We wrestled with the question, “What is your call?” And I really wrestled. My uncertainty led me to spend some time with Father Nathan Finnin, Canterbury’s Chaplain and teacher of Spiritual Development and Theology since 2010.
I wondered to myself, how can this guy walk around campus constantly emitting joy and laughter? No matter what the weather
in carpool line, he looks happy to be there, jumping into random cars to surprise kids, high fiving all the young siblings peeking out windows. He is someone who seems not only completely comfortable in his own skin, but sparkling with happiness on any given day. Perhaps it is his new baby boy, Beckett. Or maybe it’s the pants: bright orange, Carolina blue, red and green Christmas pants. But I thought, surely, his nature is due to something deeper. So I sat down to ask him.
INTERVIEW WITH FATHER NATHAN FINNIN
Do you think you are living your purpose?
Yes, but my ability to say that is contingent upon me not feeling like I have a narrow specific purpose. My purpose is to be useful and to help other people on their spiritual journey through life. The idea of having one purpose makes it really easy to play “the grass is greener” game. Anytime something gets too hard or challenging you tell yourself, “Well, then, this isn’t my purpose.” I liked parish ministry, but I love school ministry. I would like to be at Canterbury School for a long time.
How do you think someone knows if they are living their purpose? What does that feel like?
Being at ease. I think one of indicators that I am living my purpose is that I am not seeking it out. I am not wrestling with the question, “Am I?” and there is a lack of tension around, “Am I doing the right job?” I don’t sit up at night wondering if I should have gone to law school or thinking twice about what I do everyday. I am committed to this place. I believe what we do here is important and worth doing.
Is this too big a topic for our kids?
No! We talk about it! One of the great things we have done at Canterbury is bring Anne-Barton Carter on staff. She is teaching the Servant Leadership class. I think what she would say is that our purpose is connected to everybody else’s purpose. Our purpose cannot be understood in a vacuum. To understand our purpose, we have to develop characteristics of empathy and a sense of community and relationships with our neighbor.
People can be distracted by a false belief that our life is somehow our own. Your life belongs to other people. The narrative changes when you convince someone that you belong to God. You are part of a community and we are connected to each other by our stories.
The Gospel is a narrative of abundance, but the world teaches us about scarcity, as if there is not enough and we need to compete. If you believe that story, you feel you need to fight to get what you need. We compete because we don’t trust God.
What are some barriers to finding purpose?
Lack of willingness to listen to people. One of the greatest things about the discernment process is that you cannot just decide to become a priest. In the Episcopal Church community, you can only become a priest after conversations with other people in your community — people who say, “Yes, you have the gifts to become a priest.” For me that was so freeing because it made the decision not mine. Because I really did not want to become a priest! I was a regular college junior, 22. The idea of Seminary
literally popped into my head one day when I was shaving. No burning bush, no voice from the clouds. I was thinking, “I wonder if I can get into Seminary?” I had just started going back to church and I thought to myself, “That’s absurd.” But the thought kept coming back. Then one day I mentioned it to my campus ministry priest. He said that if it keeps coming up, you should at least check it out. I wanted him to give me permission NOT to do this. After several conversations, I realized if I didn’t at least check it out I’d always wonder. And there was nothing else I felt that way about.
I was terrified of waking up at 40, wondering if I should have gone to Seminary. I promised myself I would go through the discernment process hoping they would tell me, “No, this isn’t for you.” At each step along the way, through conversations with the committees, teachers, the bishop, they all said, “I think you have something to offer.”
The deal I made with myself and God is: I’ll continue to do this as long as the people around tell me this is right.
How do you talk to Canterbury kids about purpose and what’s important in life?
With the added challenge and strategy in this age group, we need to back up and begin with a conversation about the difference between what God values and what the world values. Christianity should be our first identity. A beloved child of God. My self worth is not tied up in what other people think of me.
One of the biggest things I would want to tell kids is that happiness is not something we can afford to wait on. Happiness is a choice. A popular saying is: You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking. You can’t just sit around and come up with a great notion of fulfillment or of goodness; you have to go out and start doing things that are good. That will make you happy and fulfilled.
“People can be distracted by a false belief that our life is somehow our own. Your life belongs to other people.” Father Nathan Finnin
While I still felt conflicted as to my own sacred calling, I felt huge comfort and gratitude after Father Finnin confirmed that our Canterbury children are being taught steps to bring them closer to answering these tough questions for themselves. The values of empathy and solidarity are ones brought into daily moments in every class at Canterbury.
As a parent, I am hoping to find some quiet and still moments this Lent to pause and reflect on these same values and questions. Perhaps I’ll steal a moment in the beautiful and sacred Phillips Chapel, or a walk through the nature trail. If anyone is willing to listen, come find me!
Katie Hu is the parent of Brady (4th-Hoover), Maggie (2nd-McIlwain) and Mason (2025). Her favorite part of Canterbury is the chapel and the teachers. She loves a quiet walk in the woods, yoga, and a tall glass of kale afterwards.