Tag Archive | ordination

Amanda

This post is part of my reflecting on the 20th anniversary of my ordination this year…

Part of seminary education in my denomination (ELCA) is called CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). Usually this is a summer spent working as a hospital chaplain.  CPE is intense.  You are being a hospital chaplain, but you are also part of a group of others doing their CPE along with you and you meet constantly to debrief your experiences.  In a hospital setting you’re confronted left and right with life and death decisions, with life-altering and devastating illnesses and accidents, and there is grief and pain mixed with joy and relief all around. It’s good to examine your own stuff while you’re confronting other’s stuff – so that you don’t confuse your stuff with theirs (or at least learn to recognize it when you do!).

Most of my day-to-day chaplaincy work was done on general medical floors.  Every once in a while we would help cover for each other if one of us had to be out, and we ALL took turns being on-call since this hospital had a chaplain available to patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  We had an on-call room to sleep in just like doctors – and we all prayed when it was our turn that it would be a quiet night.  It never was for me.  Not only that, but every single time I was on-call I was paged to be with the one “set” of patients I dreaded the most – the children.  Every single time. Without fail.  It’s never good when the chaplain (or any other care provider) is paged at 2am.  But when I would look at the number paging me and realize it was from one of pediatric units (Peds, NICU or PICU) I would just feel sick to my stomach.

The encounter that has stayed with me the most all these years is with a baby named Amanda.  Amanda was almost six months old but had never left the NICU.  She was born quite premature and had multiple problems.  Her mother and father, maybe in their mid-twenties, had just gotten the bad news that Amanda had yet another brain bleed and they wanted to talk to somebody.  The nurses explained to me that Amanda’s prognosis for survival was extremely poor, and that the parents were trying to process the information.****

I shook in my shoes.  Before I could be present with them I had some serious praying to do for myself. Obviously there was nothing I could say that would make this better.  Their little girl was dying, and they were trying to process this news.  What was there to say?

I went over to them and introduced myself.  I let them share with me what they were able to process to that point (sometimes it takes a while for news that tragic to sink in.  That’s another thing pastors do – journey with people as they unpack the realities of life and death).  I understood more than they were able to what was happening, but you can’t push people.  I met them where they were, just as God meets US where WE are.  I told them I was sorry for what they were going through, with what Amanda had gone through in her short life.  I looked at their little girl, obviously very sick, but still so beautiful, and told them that God was with them no matter what.  I told them that God had been with them all along, and that God would continue to be with them in the uncertain future.  They were not alone, even if they felt that way.  That it was okay to question, be angry, be weak, to cry, to scream – God would never leave.  My prayer with them was that they would feel God’s love embrace them and their daughter even in their pain.  We sat together for a long time, touching Amanda, touching each other, with a lot of silence.

Some people call this kind of ministry the ministry of presence.  Meaning, there isn’t anything concrete “to do.” You’re “just there.”  It’s hard to just sit with that kind of intensity.  It’s frustrating for a pastoral person who naturally wants to do something.  You feel helpless and useless, like you’re doing nothing.  In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.  I don’t know what happened to Amanda or her parents. But I know how I have felt when on their end of grief and sorrow.  I know what it’s like to feel alone, to grieve, to doubt, to be sitting in the patient’s or family’s seat in the hospital – and I know it’s NOT nothing to have another human being sitting beside you.  It can be a huge comfort.  Having a physical pastoral presence to represent God’s presence with us is NOT nothing.

Amanda was my first serious experience as a future pastor with the ministry of presence.  It’s still not easy even all these years later.  It’s not supposed to be.  But it’s important to remember that it’s NOT nothing.  Thank you Amanda.  You helped this person be a better pastor.

it's not nothing

it’s not nothing


****This is where ministry takes place.  This is when you want people to realize that sending their money to some televangelist so he can buy a new jet is just GARBAGE.  This is when you want people to realize that buying the best-seller of a preacher living in a mansion is just GARBAGE.  Amanda and her parents are ministry.  THIS is what regular everyday pastors are called to do day in and day out.  We brave the 300 pound gorilla in the room, which is death.  We sit with people as they mourn and doubt, as they question their own worth, struggle with addictions, sickness, anger, depression.  We hold hands with those who bury their children and lose their homes and can’t put food on the table.  Next time you think about sending a check to a “mega-ministry” half across the country, think of the church down the street whose pastor probably makes pennies, but whose doors are always open when you need a hand to hold.  Just my two cents…

 

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hands and promises

This is another reflection to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my ordination.  This one is about the actual event of my ordination.  There are many things I remember about the day.

  • The music!!!!  I was ordained in a Roman Catholic Cathedral.  I didn’t question how it could happen that a bunch of protestants (Lutherans no less!) could use a cathedral for worship (which included using the altar for communion), but our synod did so for a few years.  The building was understandably massive.  The space overwhelming.  Lutherans in the United States generally don’t have such spaces, so it was a bit of a shock to my system.  Not only that, but the building was made for the music.  I can’t tell you the specs of the organ, but it too was massive and the sound was massive and the sound moved through my whole body.  The one word to sum up the space and the music – MASSIVE.  (Enough to be repeated four times in one paragraph!)
  • The congregation.  Lutherans have some big churches, but the vast majority are not “cathedral size.” The congregation gathered on this day filled the cathedral.  The love and support exhibited just by folks’ presence with us was enormous.  And to hear hundreds of people join together in prayer, praying the “Our Father” with that many people was just, well… utterly inspiring and uplifting.
  • The juxtaposition of pride and humility.  I was so proud of getting to this point in my life.  Four years of hard classroom and practical work, plus the earlier years of discerning before seminary.  Searching in theological thought and in my own personal growth had led me to feel rightly proud to be receiving the Church’s blessing. YET… at the same time I was completely humbled by the experience of being blessed by the Church, frightened even.  Afraid that I wasn’t up to the tasks that lay ahead.  Afraid of letting people down.  Afraid of making mistakes.  Afraid of failure.  (All those things I was frightened of?  All of them have happened.  And both the Church, and I, have survived. Proof that the Church is more than me, and that God uses the flawed and sinful to share the gospel!)

But there are two things I remember the most.

The first were the promises that each candidate for ordination must make.  They are both wonderful and fierce, beginning with “Before almighty God, to whom you must give account…”  Gulp.  Humility again. All kinds of promises – promises having to do with Scripture, prayer, Creeds, and Confessions; but also promises about how to lead the people.  Promises about nourishing the people with the Word and Sacraments, how I would go about living my life as a public person, and being a witness to Christ in the world. Weighty promises.  Serious stuff.  Stuff I took (and still take) seriously.  Heavy for sure.  In those moments of promises I literally began to shake as I, along with each other candidate, individually had to respond out loud, “I will, and I ask God to help me.”  Yes Lord, please help me!

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The second thing I remember the most vividly was the laying on of hands.  During the laying on of hands, the candidate is kneeling (and we were “free” kneeling with just a cushion for our knees – no kneelers for support), and the bishop along with several others (visiting bishops, assistant bishops, and the candidate’s sponsors) lay their hands on the candidates head for a blessing.  After the emotional weight of the promises, the physical weight of all those hands on my head was overpowering.  During the laying on of hands I came the closest I’ve ever come to being slain in the Spirit.  I felt weak, like I was going to fall over.  It wasn’t the same as fainting (I’ve done that before and know what that’s like).  This was really different, all my senses were heightened, but my strength was just gone. Luckily I didn’t make a scene and steadied myself.  But I have never forgotten how overcome I felt – kneeling, surrounded, weighed down and prayed for by that group of spiritual leaders.  There are no words really…

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After the laying on of hands each candidate receives a stole as a sign of the pastoral office.  They stand and turn to face the congregation gathered.  The bishop then asks the people to acknowledge the new pastors and pray for them – at that point they are acclaimed to be pastors and there is thunderous applause!  I mean thunderous.  And all the new pastors can do is stand there and take it.  You can’t say, “No really, it’s ok, you can stop now,” or “Please, really, sit down and let’s get on with worship.”  But then you remember they’re not just clapping for you (although family and friends may beg to differ), they’re also clapping for the Church and its ministry, and for the proclamation of the gospel.

Some parts of that day have long faded from my memory, but these things stay with me, because they impact my call to Word and Sacrament ministry even now:  music, people, pride and humility, promises, touching and blessing. This is how we are Jesus, and how we do Jesus, and how we bring Jesus to the world.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Word and Sacrament

In the year 1995 my life changed utterly in two ways.  First, I started the year by getting married – certainly a milestone in any life.  Six months after that I began my journey on a path to which the Lord was calling me, and to which God still calls me twenty years later.  TODAY is the 2oth anniversary of my ordination to Word and Sacrament Ministry.  On June 25, 1995, through prayer and the laying on of hands, I became a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, set apart to preach God’s Word and administer the sacraments.  I’m doing some BIG pastoral pondering on that event today.

In the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the normal course to ordination is to graduate from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree (a 4 year program), then receive a “call” from a congregation.  There is the call to ministry, but a person must also receive a “call” from a specific congregation in order to be ordained.  I obviously cannot underestimate the value of the academic education I received at seminary, but I also cannot underestimate the value of the friendships I made there, the relationships I continue to hold dear and that carry me daily through my ministry.  While at seminary I met my husband and the woman who is godmother to all three of my children!

seminary graduation, May 1994

seminary graduation, May 1994

Graduation from seminary was truly a celebration, four years of hard work rewarded, except for one minor detail.  While the Church affirmed my call to ordained ministry, I had no call to a congregation.  I had no job.  In the ELCA candidates are assigned to a synod (geographic area) and are placed in the care of a bishop whose responsibility it is to find them a congregation to serve.  Many times candidates graduate from seminary with their congregations ready and waiting for them.  But not me.  I had gotten pretty far in the process for a position, but in my second interview, my attendance at a certain “women’s conference” came up.  It led some people on the committee to believe that I was some kind of radical feminist man-hater, God-the-Father denier and Jesus’ resurrection doubter.  It didn’t feel like an interview – it felt more like a trial.

It seemed like they couldn’t comprehend that a person can listen to a lecture at an academic conference and not agree with everything said.  To them, attendance meant agreement.  The idea that one can listen and learn about a different point of view, without subscribing to it, didn’t make sense to them.  Sadly, this thinking is still far too true 20 years later – just look at the lack of political, social and religious discourse in our society.  The committee was split evenly between those who wanted to proceed with me and those who wanted to end the process. In the synod to which I belong that’s a deal breaker.

Ordination - June 25, 1995 - with the bishop who ordained me, The Rev. E. Roy Riley, Jr.

Ordination – June 25, 1995 – with the bishop who ordained me, The Rev. E. Roy Riley, Jr.

My bishop even went and met with this committee PERSONALLY to try to sway them, but to no avail.   In the Lutheran Church a bishop cannot force a pastor on a congregation.  So my call process was dead.  Back to square one.  To his credit my bishop refused to present this church with another pastoral candidate – instead he assigned them interns for two years – the first intern was a man who was probably more of a feminist than me, and the second a woman who had attended the very same conference they found objectionable!  That bishop (now retired) will always have a special place in my heart for this, and also because a few years later he was a supportive presence for my husband and me while we went through a very frightening period medically with our second child.

But I still had no job, no way to financially support myself.  I had to find a job to “bide my time” till another appropriate church became open. In stepped a dear friend, whose husband happened to need a social worker as a full-time temporary replacement for an employee on medical leave.  God provides.  I was able to put my social work bachelor’s degree and experience to use, and make enough money to eat and afford a tiny three room third floor apartment.  Long story short, it took a year to find the right “fit” for me.  I graduated from seminary in May of 1994, and was ordained on June 25, 1995.

The twenty years since have seen me go from full-time ministry, to “on leave” (aka no congregational call), to VERY part-time, on leave again, and another very part-time call (my current congregational call).  This see-sawing has been due to my choice to be as much of a stay-at-home mom to my children as I possibly can, while still staying involved in preaching and pastoral duties.  Even when I was “on leave” I was still constantly preaching and helping out local congregations.  The congregation I serve now is quite small and doesn’t have great pastoral time demands due to their size, so the situation has worked out well for them and for me.

ordination - June 25, 1995

ordination – June 25, 1995

I am most certainly not the same person who knelt for the laying on of hands twenty years ago.  Since I received my stole I have given birth to three children, lived through an autism diagnosis for one of them, mourned the deaths of my father and both of my in-laws, been through the “better and worse” of marriage, and felt my call tested.  Sometimes I’ve felt out of the loop in my synod because of my “very part time” status, and the fact that I’m limited in how I can participate in synod meetings because of time and travel.  Thankfully, since I began using social media I’m getting to know new colleagues, keeping up better with synod and national Church events, and making wider connections with pastors and church leaders all over the country – this has helped immensely!

It’s been quite a journey.  Each one of us is called by God to certain paths, to use the gifts God has given us to serve the Church and the world.  For me, it is Word and Sacrament.  For the past twenty years I have been honored to hold this office in the Church, humbled constantly by people’s trust in me as their pastor, grateful for the walk I have walked with them through the joy, celebration, sadness, worry, anxiety and sorrow in their lives.  And the center of it all, of all our journeys individually and together – is God.

To God alone be the glory.  Soli Deo Gloria.

Everyone’s Pastor

photo(11)When I was ordained almost 20 years ago, I was ordained to serve a specific congregation.  A pastor, however, is NOT just a pastor to one particular group of people in a particular place – when one is ordained, one is also ordained as a pastor of the Church.  That’s Church with a capital “C” – the universal Church.  I serve a congregation, but I also serve the Church, which is everywhere and everyone.

This week I was contacted out of the blue by a woman who is battling leukemia, but it appears she is losing.  She doesn’t belong to a congregation.  It’s been a while since she’s been to church.  But she is baptized, was raised Lutheran, went to a Lutheran school, and feels Lutheran at her core, so she sought out a Lutheran pastor and found me.

She’s afraid.  She has questions.  She has doubts.  She wants to live, but wants to plan her funeral.  She is weak and immune compromised and cannot leave her house, so she asked if I would come and speak with her.  I don’t know her.  She is not a member of the congregation I serve.  She is not a member of ANY congregation.  What do I do?  I go and visit because as a pastor of the Church with a capital “C” I AM her pastor.

Sometimes pastors can lose sight of the fact that we’re not just called to a congregation, or a synod (or diocese) or even a national denomination – but the people – ALL the people, in our buildings and out of our buildings.  This means we get calls from funeral homes to officiate funerals for folks we don’t know, who for whatever reason want a Christian funeral even though they didn’t belong to a congregation.  It means if we’re in public wearing the “collar” we can get stopped by anyone who wants to talk about anything – complaints about religion, questions about faith, even outright confessions.  I’ve run into all of these experiences in my almost 20 years in the ordained ministry.  It is part of the profound honor of serving Christ in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

I will be visiting with her again, because now, even though we only met this week, I am her pastor.

 

***Of course, all the baptized (not just pastors) are called to minister to one another.  Each one of us is called through baptism to offer support, comfort and the Word of the gospel to those we meet.  But there are times in a person’s life when they desire someone to provide counsel, spiritual guidance, the comfort of the sacraments, and the confidentiality that the office of pastor brings.