Thirteen years ago, on December 28th I was ordained a transitional deacon in the Episcopal Church. (Six months later, on June 28th, to the priesthood). That year the feast of St. John the Evangelist was transferred to December 28, supplanting the usual feast day of Holy Innocents (the day honoring the children killed by Herod – according to scripture- in his vain attempt to rid the world of the Christ-child). I much preferred the idea of an ordination on the feast of St. John. It was however the end of the 20th century, one of the last days of 1999. We all wondered what was going to happen when 2000 rolled in a few nights later. Would computers stop working? Would the stock market crash? Would the apocalypse come?
Thirteen years is not a very long time to be ordained. In some ways it still feels so fresh and new. Just like in some ways I still feel twenty-something instead of nearly fifty-six. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t want my ministry to feel stale and old, tired and worn out. I want to always stay fresh and young, active and healthy, alert and energized. I suspect though, that one day, as I prepare for retirement this will not be so, but that’s for another time. For now I want to be vibrant and young in ministry.
On the other hand rarely does something arise in ministry (and in life in general) that I have not already experienced somewhere along the way. I almost always have some experience, real lived experience, to fall back on. I can usually assess from the previous experience what worked and what did not and how I want to respond now. That is a good thing, too. It is a source from which wisdom grows.
No doubt I still wonder from time to time. I wonder about what I am saying when I preach – who am I to stand up and say anything? I am just an ordinary person, not particularly intelligent, at least not in the brilliant mind kind of way. I’m not a particularly gifted writer. I am just an ordinary person who somehow found herself called into this life of ministry. It is not a calling that I considered when I was younger. It is not a calling that I wanted. I came to it quite circumstantially and round about, through volunteer work as a massage therapist on a pediatric unit in a hospital. It has certainly stretched me beyond my wildest imagination. My undergraduate degree is in dance. How in the world did I get accepted into not just one but two masters level graduate degree programs – M.Div/MSW? Seriously. But I did get accepted and I did pretty well in school and in my field ed classes too. And I even got ordained at the end of the four years it took to get that dual degree.
So now thirteen years later. It’s hardly anything in the grand scheme of things. Other people my age, who have been ordained twenty some years are preparing to retire. I am in the middle of my vocation-time.
It also feels as if I have been doing this work, living this call for ever. I feel as if I have always been a priest, as if all the work I did before ordination was just preliminary, preparation for the work I am doing now.
I love what I do. I love being a parish priest. I love that every day is different. I love that in one moment I am writing an article for the parish newsletter and in the next moment I am making a hospital call, then I am preparing liturgy, planning meetings, working on a Bible study or Christian Formation class, or reading or preparing a sermon. Time flies, I am always busy. But I am grounded in work of the best kind – finding the connection between life and God – and helping others to find that connecting point too.
Thirteen years. Before I was ordained I had a bit of a rocky time – some of those who served on the Commission of Ordained Ministry challenged my call. For awhile I wasn’t certain if they would ordain me. One person, during the challenge, shot down my assessment that ordained ministry was my call, the joy of my heart. Bitterly he said to me, “What joy will you find when your job ends up cleaning out the gutters of the church more than tending to that which you love?” In that moment my heart broke for this man. Clearly his ministry had left him broken and his resistance to me was more about his grief than my ability. Joy, I thought, is something other than what he thinks it is – joy is the degree to which I can find grace and peace in God even if my work involves cleaning out gutters and then writing a sermon and then making a hospital visit and then dealing with the disgruntled.
At most I have another 16 years until I retire. So, not quite at the midpoint, but nearing it. All is well enough. I live with a grateful heart. Even as I sometimes wonder how I ended up in this work and why and who am I to do this – I also know, deep in my soul, that this is exactly what God desires of me. In response I will continue to embrace this call with integrity and passion and, yes, joy, too.