Today marks the tenth anniversary of my ordination. I remember the service as if it were yesterday. The afternoon started out sunny and bright. As the service got underway a mighty storm blew in. Nanette, her mom Jean, and my brother Alistair were sitting in the front pew. Liz Meyer Bolton preached the sermon, encouraging me to keep a scrapbook of the high points in ministry for surely, she said, I would need a reminder of what was good about ministry when the low points came. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed as I was presented to the church and took my vows. I knelt as the congregation laid its hands on me, the gravitas of the moment eluding description. Gifts were given. Newly ordained, I stood before the Lord’s Table and, as I raised my hands with the intent to proclaim the Words of Institution for the very first time, with perfect comedic timing a low rumble of thunder rolled over the church. The congregation laughed. I nervously hoped this was not an omen.
My first decade in ministry had its fair share of storms. Called to a ministry of reconciliation in conflicted congregations, I faced some formidable situations and personalities. Seemingly intractable inter-personal or organizational conflicts pushed my faith and learning to their feeblest limits. At times it felt I was preaching to the choir. At times stubborn devotion to perceptions of past glories and rigid obeisance to outdated structures and traditions seemed an impenetrable fortress. I was troubled by the limits so many imposed on their faith, happy to confine it to an hour of worship but not willing to fully extend it to attitudes and deeds “in the world.” The ad hominem attacks, when they came, were fierce and most often directed by those who had to be confronted about unhelpful behaviors. Speaking truth to power has its consequences.
Yet, on that Pentecost 10 years ago, when the service had ended and I was making my way to the reception, a friend rushed to get me. I had to see the rainbow. The sun had come out and, indeed, a beautifully distinct rainbow was painted against the departing storm front. God’s covenant with Noah came to mind, God’s promise that never again would vengeance outweigh love. And this is the truest metaphor for my first decade in ministry. No matter how tough things seemed, how challenging situations were, how many terrible things happened in the world, God’s unconditional love would always surface. It surfaced in the most unlikely of ways, through the most unlikely people, in spite of the most persnickety of moods. But surface it would – time and time again love would be revealed.
Faithfully striving and fervently praying for the heart of a servant leader helped me embody, at least to some faltering degree, the abundant love of God. Drawing on my upbringing, I sought to honor each and every person as a beloved child of the God I have come to know in Christ Jesus – the Holy One whom the scriptures declare to be Love. I’m sure somewhere along the way someone thought I was preaching about love a little too much. But love animates the scriptures, it brings to life in tangible ways God’s heart for peace and justice. Love undergirds the most elemental aspects of life in community. Love is at the heart of the Good News about God’s resurrecting power in Christ Jesus.
As I look back over my first 10 years in ministry, I am grateful for the transformation I have witnessed – in myself, in others, and in the organizations I have served. I am frustrated by my failures, but appreciate lessons learned. I marvel at the people I have served and with whom I have served. I am humbled by the trust so many placed in me simply by virtue of the fact that I am an ordained representative of the Church. The Apostle Paul’s words come to mind: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us this ministry of reconciliation….” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
Having further refined in the fires of conflict my understanding of my call to ministry as one of reconciliation, I am looking forward to starting the next 10 years at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where I will be working toward a PhD in Theology and Peace Studies. All of my professional experience to date – serving in the church, reporting on a nation in transition, and the study of conflict and peace – have brought me to this exciting juncture in my life. I look forward to the many doors this will open for me in academe, the church, and out in the world.