Two years ago today in the presence of my Bishop, my congregation and a whole host of assorted friends of every denominational stripe I was ordained a priest. I promised with God’s help to obey my bishop and “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church....to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion my life in accordance with its precepts…to love and serve the people…caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor...to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood... to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.”
When asked if I believed I was called to this I answered fervently that I was. And I did and I do. But on that day, which sometimes seems only a moment ago and sometimes a lifetime….I had no idea. I think sometimes I still don’t really. But I’m getting it….I’m getting it.
There’s been a lot of on the job training. I sometimes wonder if this is because I was locally trained and did not attend seminary. But then I talk to my seminary-trained friends and they tell me that there are a lot of things that seminary does not necessarily prepare you for either. Much of that has been the interpersonal stuff. There is no way to learn this academically. You have to be there. You have to trip on it, fall on it and find you don’t die of it. Messing up and making up and going on in the same church with the same people day in and day out. Reaching out. Forgiving. Turning that other cheek. Over and over and over. Just like it says in the Gospel. Golly. Who knew? I have been learning some things about reconciliation and forgiveness and peacemaking. I have been learning about not judging and about letting go. I have been learning that praying for people who hurt you (and those who simply annoy the crap out of you) does really work.
I have learned that I can be really, really scared and do it anyway (and not a soul knows but me). That I can be completely clueless about how to do something and look like I have done it at least once before. I have come to rely on the Book of Common Prayer as a priceless resource. It really is all there in the fine print if you just know where to look!
This came as no newsflash but has been reinforced over and over….I love doing liturgy! I would celebrate the Eucharist or officiate at any kind of liturgical service any time any place any day! I have used this analogy before, but to me it feels like being the hostess at the best party in the world. When I was first ordained I was a bit of a perfectionist freak about things. It was the anxiety, I know. I am no less a perfectionist now, but I hope I’m less of a freak! I see my job as the presider as making the worship experience seamless for the congregation. There should be no hiccups in the proceedings to distract them (at least not coming from me). I should be able to kind of become part of the landscape of the worship event, like the music and the liturgical atmospherics. I’m finding the more I do it the easier it gets to also relax and enjoy it. I still have to pinch myself most of the time though to believe it’s really me there doing this amazing thing. I still cry a little bit more Sundays than not a some point in the proceedings just from sheer joy.
The “getting off the altar” part was quicker and easier than some of us had feared. I was clearly seduced into the priesthood by liturgy. That is no secret. I’ve been a closet mystic since I was twelve. I’m Celtic, I’m a writer, I come by it honestly! There were some among us who feared that I would become one of “those” priests who lock themselves in a holy ivory prayer tower and forget about the needs of the world. God’s dream for me was bigger than that and I am grateful that I had the sense to pay attention. The altar is the place to bring the concerns of the world, the place to come and offer them and be strengthened to go out again. If we have not been in the world, what is there to bring?
I’m liking preaching more all the time, too. Of course don’t ask me about that some Saturday night when I’ve been struggling with some recalcitrant sermon for hours and hours….but as a whole, contrary to what some folks say, I think it has gotten easier. Or maybe I should say, I’ve gotten easier. Easier with my expectations of myself. But in some ways, I’ve got riskier with myself as well. The personal life events of the last year have been good for my preaching. I have let go of so much and accepted so much, and that has made me more authentic and courageous, and has given me so much more certainty about being loved by God and other people….and well, that preaches!
So as I celebrate this two year anniversary, I find as always I am amazed and grateful that I ended up here, living this impossible dream. It’s clear to me that it’s really true that with God anything is possible. I wonder what the coming years will hold.