Word of the Week

Not Afraid Anymore

As you might imagine with my days in local church pastor land drawing to a close, I've had a lot of packing to do. I've been sorting through books, papers and sermon files over the past several days. And in doing so, I've discovered all sorts of treasures, as you usually do when you begin to pack. Books I forgot I had from seminary. Extra copies of book studies to send to friends who might enjoy them. A letter from my grandmother lodged in the jacket cover of a book (who has been deceased over 7 years!). And also several CD and DVDs of ministry related files and activities.

I've been tempted to stroll a bit down memory lane this afternoon as I've tried to figure out exactly what these DVDs, in particular are of. Who cared if I was behind schedule on the packing!

ordinationAnd, I'm glad I did. For, what I jewel I found in re-discovering my ordination service on DVD from November 2006. A shout out to Michelle Mesen for recording it! It took place at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC with important contributions from Amy Butler, the pastor, several seminary friends including Anna Kate Ellerman Shirley, Abby Thornton and Sarah Jobe as well as head of the DC Baptist convention at the time, Jeffrey Haggray, my colleague from my first church, Charlie Updike and my parents too.

As I watched this service (which I hadn't viewed in many years), I couldn't help but notice the look of terror in my eyes as words poured over my life and call to ministry.

I was excited yes, about FINALLY being ordained. But, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into. I came from a ministry family. I knew the toil would take on my life, my schedule and any future family members I added to my household. I knew I wasn't really as holy as everyone made me out to be that day. I wasn't sure how to keep pace with this emotionally draining vocation. Yet in spite of myself, I knew, though, I wanted to be in a church more than anything.

I remember the morning of my ordination I had a long talk with several seminary friends about my concerns: "I'm afraid my life is now over. I'm getting married to God today," I offered with tears in my eyes.

My friends were great, reminding me that indeed my life was not over. There's still be time for fun and holidays and new adventures even though they agreed, ordination is sort of like getting married to God (though not like our Catholic priest colleagues thank goodness!).

And so for the past six years, I've dutifully labored. I've supported two churches in associate and solo pastorate roles. I've preached a lot of services. I've planned a lot of funerals and wedddings. In doing so, I've learned much about myself, people and the role of the church in the world. People have loved me and I've loved them too. My theology has shifted and shifted some more. I've been brought back to center time and time again through the gift of colleagues.

In all of this, I wouldn't go back and change a thing. These first six years of ordination have been about serving the local church and the church has served me along the way too.

ordination3But, in January things will be different.

I hear folks commenting around me (when they find out I'm leaving my church), "I can't believe YOU are giving up your church." Or, "What a waste that you aren't going to be in ministry."

Such sentiments sting a little because they aren't true-- though of course my landscape of ministry is changing.

Hear this: I still am a big fan of the church. I still believe in its purpose in the world. I still will call myself a Rev. and seek to use my life in gospel pursuits.

Of course it is all going to look different soon. My calling has changed. I won't wear a stole and rise to a pulpit every week now. I won't plan worship for Lent this year. I may not make as many hospital calls.

But, I am going to still be a minister. I don't know if I could ever stop.

Someone asked me the other day, "Are you afraid of the future?"

And the answer is no.

It took me a LONG time to get to this place. But with every book I pack today, I really feel ok. The details of the ins and outs of the future life I will be creating with Kevin are sparse (I can't even tell you where I'm going to live in six months), but I realized today that I'm not afraid. I feel the gift of calling.

And in calling, I know we'll figure it out (though of course I'll have those days like everyone else when I'll cry about it). In due time, I know the Spirit will make things plain. I know I'll keep studying, learning and preaching somehow. And, most of all I will live into writing as a vocation in the upcoming season. In fact, what I get into next might just be more fitting of the person I was created to be-- who knows?

Above all, I no longer have the fearful look in my eyes I projected at my ordination service six years ago-- even though several in my life think I should be MORE scared now. God's calling is messy. Yet, it is also one of peace. This I know.

I'm glad I stumbled upon the DVD of my ordination service today. What a gift to remember and gain perspective.