Nick McRae felt the first stirrings of a call to ministry in childhood, but for a number of reasons, he didn’t take it seriously. Instead, he pursued a career as an English professor, earning an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. and publishing a couple of books of poetry.
But one day in 2014, while teaching freshman composition at the University of North Texas, he said, “I had this overwhelming sense. I didn’t want to be telling these students about introductory paragraphs; I wanted to tell them about Jesus.”
As McRae completed his Ph.D. program, he applied to Perkins, where he is now an M.Div. student.
“As a graduate student, I had gotten really involved in a United Methodist church, and it was changing my life,” he said. “I felt right at home, and realized it was time to answer the call.”
Perkins initially appealed to McRae for practical reasons – his wife, Annie, an audiologist, had already established her career in the North Texas area, and Perkins offered an excellent financial aid package.
“I’m lucky because I didn’t have to go into debt, and Perkins just happened to be an excellent seminary that most of the clergy in North Texas come out of,” he said. “I got plugged into the Perkins social network. It’s the best of both possible worlds.”
McRae’s areas of academic interest include Hebrew, the Old Testament and Wesleyan theology. He comes to Perkins with an already full academic CV. He was a Fulbright fellow in the Slovak Republic, where he taught English and American literature; a member of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference staff; a University Fellow at The Ohio State University, where he earned his M.F.A. in creative writing; and a Robert B. Toulouse Fellow at the University of North Texas, where he earned his Ph.D. in English. He is the author of The Name Museum (C&R Press, 2014) – winner of the De Novo Poetry Prize – and Mountain Redemption (Black Lawrence Press, 2013), which won the Fall 2011 Black River chapbook competition.
But while his career path has had a few twists and turns, McRae is convinced that God doesn’t waste anything. His past academic work may not seem directly connected to his current studies, but he sees connections.
“Studying poetry helped me to rethink my approach to Scripture,” he said. “In poetry, you can mean more than one thing at a time. It helped shatter that idea that all of these words in Scripture have one specific, direct meaning. You can get something different from Scripture every time you read it, and that’s OK.”
Now, he’s juggling graduate studies with his day job as associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Sachse. Grounding him through his busy schedule is a regular practice of prayer.
“My main practice is praying the Daily Office,” he said. “For the past year, I’ve been going to an Episcopal Church near my home for morning prayer from the Book of Common Prayer with a small group. I find that, even without trying, I slowly begin to memorize and internalize the prayers. Having a form gives you a lot of resources and language to use … on how to praise God, how to confess to God in prayer, how to pray for others every day.”
At Perkins, he often leads prayer for the Order of Saint Luke, an ecumenical religious order dedicated to sacramental and liturgical scholarship, education and practice. “We pray for the students of Perkins and we pray for the world,” he said. “Once a semester we have a chapel service where we offer prayers for healing.”
The touchstone he returns to often is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“Being a graduate student and in ministry, at times you look around and realize joy and peace are missing in your life,” he said. “Joy and peace are things we can easily end up overlooking. These words are like a prayer: fill me with joy and peace and help me believe.”