Ordained Ministry: The First Decade

Laying on of hands. The moment of ordination.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 At times stubborn devotion to perceptions of past glories and rigid obeisance to outdated structures and traditions seemed an impenetrable fortress.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.

Onward!

Newly Ordained

Chrismation

On Being Green

It was Kermit the Frog who once sang, “It’s not that easy being green.” I quite agree. The bright red stoles of Pentecost have been neatly folded away. The white and gold of the 50 days of Eastertide deserve good rest after adorning the sanctuary since replacing the dark shadows of the Paschal Triduum. The purples that guided our imaginations in Lent won’t be seen again until the first Sunday of Advent.

Liturgically we’re on the cusp of the long season after Pentecost known as Ordinary Time. It’s the second and longest period of Ordinary Time in the church year. The stoles on the lectern or draped over the preacher’s shoulders will be green for the 24 weeks that follow the white of this week’s Trinity Sunday service. It’s a long season that encompasses the bright greens of June, the lush dog days of summer, the first cool nights, and the glorious tapestry of fall. It can seem like a long, unexciting season for those of us who don’t celebrate minor feasts for saints or other commemorations. Ordinary Time can come to seem a little, well, ordinary. Yet it is in the ordinary where the extraordinary can come to light.

Kermit reminds us that while it’s not that easy being green, “Green’s the color of spring, and green can be cool and friendly-like, and green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree. When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why. But why wonder? I’m green. And it will do fine. It’s beautiful.”

Joan Chittister frames the essence of Ordinary Time this way: “Like an echo off a mountain that ripples and repeats itself down the valleys of life, the Sundays of Ordinary Time stand as a stark and repeating reminder of the center of the faith. Each Sunday, remember, is a feast, a little Easter, in its own right. Unencumbered by the overlay of any other feast, they carry within themselves, stark and unadorned, the essence of the Lord’s Day. Each of them is Easter, a return to the core of the faith, the center of the church, the call of the Christian community that ‘Jesus is risen.'” (The Liturgical Year, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, p 185.)

Imagine what the church will become if we used Ordinary Time as an opportunity to return to the core of the faith, to get back to the basics of what we have come to believe. Imagine how much more meaningful Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany will be. Imagine what Lent, Easter, and Pentecost will come to mean. Imagine, if you dare, how your life will be transformed when you more fully live the commitment that Christ is risen.

So let’s heed the wisdom of Kermit and Chittister and live into what’s special about being green. Let’s celebrate Ordinary Time in a way that opens our hearts and minds to the extraordinary presence of God in the world. What a tremendous gift Ordinary Time promises to be!