STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
When recent graduates look for work, they weigh a number of factors: the pay, the city, the health benefits. But for one group of graduates, those things fade away compared to a call from God.
Over the next year, we will be following some people during their first year of ministry. Consider this a new generation of religious leaders - Christian, Jewish, Muslim - who will minister to an increasingly diverse population of Americans.
Today, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty begins an occasional series we call "The Young and The Godly," with two new Methodist pastors, Chris and Katie Bishop.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The Bishops are crammed with 140 other black-robed graduates in a chapel at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Unidentified Woman: You look so beautiful today with your hair down.
HAGERTY: Giddy and godly, some just out of college, most launching their second careers, they settle with their caps, anxious to begin their journey.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL BISHOP (Graduate, Wesley Theological Seminary): I'm Chris Bishop, and I'm graduating from Wesley Theological Seminary with a masters of divinity degree.
Ms. KATHERINE BISHOP (Newly Graduate, Wesley Theological Seminary): And I'm Katie Bishop. And I'm doing the same. So glad.
HAGERTY: So glad, why?
Ms. BISHOP: I just think it's been a long journey. It's been a lot of reading, a lot of pages, a lot of late nights studying and hard tests, but I'm ready. I feel ready. We'll find out.
HAGERTY: Chris and Katie met on the first day of seminary, when Chris threw a Frisbee that broke the nose of Katie's roommate. No lawsuits, but a marriage came out of that. She's 23, a small brunette. He's 25, a strapping guy with a stubble. And they are expecting their first child in October. They're part of a boomlet in young ministers - a generation that came of age at the turn of the century that has steered toward altruistic work.
(Soundbite of song, "Somebody's Calling My Name")
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hush, hush. Somebody's calling my name. Somebody's calling my name. Hush, hush. Somebody's…
HAGERTY: As the choir serenaded hundreds of guests in the cathedral, I thought about that mysterious event - God calling one to ministry. So I asked Katie when she felt it. Fifth grade, she said, when she was asked by her Presbyterian minister to preach on Youth Sunday.
Ms. BISHOP: On the way to church that Sunday morning, all ready to preach, I was very excited. And my mother turned to me at a stoplight on Seminary Road in Alexandria. And she said, Katie, are you nervous? And I said, no, mom. This is what God is calling me to do. And I know we sat through two or three turns of the light, because we both realized that that was not something that I had said, but it was something that the Holy Spirit was saying through me.
Unidentified Man: Will the class of 2007 please rise.
HAGERTY: At age 10, Chris says he was just realizing that he could not be Spiderman. Over the years, he had little epiphanies while on mission trips or playing sports with his youth group.
Mr. BISHOP: Even working as a kayak instructor, seeing God work in powerful ways through that and still saying, you know, I have more in store for you than just going down the river. You're going to share your faith with people even when you're teaching people how to kayak.
HAGERTY: Chris recalls his spiritual mentor testing his resolve.
Mr. BISHOP: And he said, Chris, if I can convince you to do anything else with your life, that's what I'm going to do.
Unidentified Man: Christopher Michael Bishop, Katherine Jane Posey Bishop, cum laude.
HAGERTY: And as their names are called - Chris, first then Katie - received their diplomas and Katie kisses Chris on the top of his head.
Mr. BISHOP: And now as I began to enter into this full-time ministry, there is nowhere else I'd rather be than spending my Friday nights at a bake sale or going to a game and hanging out with my youth kids.
HAGERTY: Or standing in 95-degree heat on a Friday afternoon, organizing a yard sale.
Mr. BISHOP: And we've got electronics and clothes and Christmas stuff and games. We've got a little bit of everything.
HAGERTY: A month after graduation, I checked in with Chris and Katie Bishop at Middletown United Methodist Church in rural Maryland. Chris and about a dozen other high schoolers were sorting through donations for the next day's fundraiser.
Mr. BISHOP: You playing with more stuff than you're moving.
HAGERTY: Chris knows these kids. He grew up in the relatively wealthy 1,200-member church, and was recruited by the pastor to be second in command, preaching and working with youth. Katie's been assigned to two small churches nearby. Ministers work notoriously long hours - evenings and weekends, and for such small sums that a fair number leave the pulpit because of debt. With two salaries, the Bishops' will make $66,000 a year, plus housing allowance.
Mr. BISHOP: I guess the comforting fact for me is that we've never had that first career where we knew what it was like to have a paycheck that makes you smile.
HAGERTY: On a Sunday morning, I drove with Katie to her church in rural Maryland.
Ms. BISHOP: So this is a man who goes to our church, and he's a potato farmer.
HAGERTY: It's been a bit of a culture shock moving from Washington to a place where people actually make hay and share the road with cows.
Ms. BISHOP: I said to Chris when we first got here, why is there a cow on the sign? And he looked at me like, why have you never seen a cow crossing sign? I said why are they crossing the road? He said, well, the field is on one side and the barn is on the other.
Mr. BISHOP: Good morning.
Ms. BISHOP: There's a - no power this morning.
Mr. BISHOP: No power.
Ms. BISHOP: Nope.
Mr. BISHOP: But you got plenty of power.
Ms. BISHOP: God's got the power. We'll just channel it in the right direction.
Mr. BISHOP: Right.
HAGERTY: Fifty or so people streamed into to the red brick church, many of them elderly, some farmers, and all distantly related to each other. At 23, Katie could be the granddaughter of most of the flock she's leading. They call her Girlie, as in, I couldn't hear you this morning, Girlie. She recently counseled a young couple on God's plan for marriage when she had been married less than six months. Katie adjusted quickly, but the congregation says church member John King, not so quickly.
Mr. JOHN KING (Church Member, Middletown United Methodist, Maryland): We've never had any lady ministry.
Ms. BISHOP: No.
Mr. KING: And, the church has been around since 1902, so…
Ms. BISHOP: When I was first here, one Sunday, I was here greeting people, and someone came in and didn't realize it was going to be me and not Pastor Randy…
Mr. KING: Mm-hmm.
Ms. BISHOP: …and turned around and left. But several months later, I went to go visit this person, and she said, after getting to know you…
Mr. KING: And that's exactly…
Ms. BISHOP: …I realized that you are called to be a pastor.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. BISHOP: This is the blood of our Lord and Savior shed for you. Take and drink.
HAGERTY: Katie presides and preaches with the sureness of a veteran. What most terrifies her, I asked, about the year to come? The first baptism, the first funeral? Actually, it's their baby, who's due in October.
Ms. BISHOP: And the first day I wore maternity pants to church, they fell down in the middle of the sermon. Fortunately, I was wearing a robe. But I get nervous about those little things, you know, happening - like my water breaking when I'm preaching. What is the chance of that happening?
(Soundbite of crowd)
HAGERTY: And as the congregants file out of the service, they seem to have adopted this young pastor who's six months pregnant. She's learned to speak more slowly, loudly and briefly.
Unidentified Woman #2: I like to serve, especially in communion. I'm glad when we go through all of that and just make it real short. Keep it up.
Ms. BISHOP: I like it, too. Thank you.
HAGERTY: The year had already had its broad outlines for the bishops, negotiating a marriage of the two-career couple, serving God, and soon a more demanding task master, their baby girl. That much is known. The rest, Chris says, is not.
Mr. BISHOP: I found that whenever I think I had it figured out or whenever I feel like I know what's going to happen, God has just the opposite in store.
HAGERTY: In the immediate future, Chris is preparing for a mission trip to Atlanta, which Katie may skip. Katie is on partial bed rest. The baby almost came three months early. And they're packing boxes to move into their new home, the parsonage in the mountains.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Barbara's going to check back in with Chris and Katie Bishop and a young clergy from other faiths throughout the year. You can read an overview of our series and meet a deacon who went from politics to the ministry late in life by going to our Web site, npr.org.