Saturday, June 11, 2016

Five Years

Five years ago today, I made vows before God and God's church to undertake the cross and yoke of Jesus Christ as an ordained minister. I received the title Reverend, I knelt, had hands laid upon me and prayers said over me, and I arose in spirit and in truth to proclaim the Word of God.

My Bible professor from college preached a lovely sermon on one of my favorite stories in Scripture: God's response to Moses at the burning bush when Moses protests that he is too shy and slow of speech to be the bearer of God's demands to Pharaoh.

God said to Moses, "Who gave speech to mortals? Who made them deaf, mute, seeing, or blind? Did not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with you and teach you what you are to say."

I needed that rebuke, such as it is, many times over as the months after my ordination passed. I was in a whirlwind search and call process that culminated in my current call at FCC Longview. I withdrew from a post-master's degree program at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University in order to take that call. And all the while, my childhood congregation in which I was both raised and ordained was being torn completely asunder by a personnel dispute that was handled negatively and profoundly harmfully by nearly everybody involved.

In the midst of that crisis, I came in to preach on a Sunday, as the personnel conflict had involved most of the church's pastoral staff and I (and my childhood friend and current ministerial colleague Rev. McKinna Daugherty) could at least provide a message from outside the deep wounds that had already been inflicted.

That was September 11, three months to the day after my ordination.

I have never been back to that congregation. Nor have I really thought much about my ordination since either. My ordination in the name of the Prince of Peace that took place in a community that would be ripped apart by discord only weeks later made me question all sorts of things about the vocation I just made those vows in order to undertake.

So I buried those memories deep down, and drew on only mere pieces, shreds, of them as I grew into the job I have now.

I went from my ordination so happy that I had fulfilled a dream that God had first placed on my heart as a very young child, when I told my aunt on Christmastime that I wanted to be a Biblical prophet when I grew up (I mean, my robes aren't made out of hairshirt or camel fur, but close enough).

But as the weeks and months passed from it, I found myself as Moses, unable to say or speak with any sort of bravery or courage. Seeing my sanctuary, one of only two places outside the home where I felt really accepted as a child (the other was my high school band director's classroom), turn on itself paralyzed me with fear of whether such a thing might ever happen to me or to a church I might serve in the future.

My depression, which had already been in a tailspin for nearly a year, took another dive. I was twenty-five and utterly overwhelmed by the responsibility of the call I had just accepted and the consequences I had just seen, in stark detail, of what could happen even to a church I once thought was healthy.

Five years ago, I had to mature in my outlook towards the church in a big damn hurry. I had to, as Paul said about his own maturity into ministry, grow up and set aside childish things.

So I set about rebuilding the congregation entrusted to my care. And we have done amazing things together.

More than anything else, five years later, that is my message I want to give to all of you: that living out your promise and your devotion to God really can and does result in amazing, kingdom-building, soul-sized works being done in God's name.

Sometimes, on late nights of that kingdom-building, soul-sized work, when I would be sitting at my desk burning the midnight oil, I would reach across to my shelf and, beneath a stack of folders and sheaf of papers, pull out the program from my ordination service. I would read Exodus 4:1-12.  I would remember what my professor and my field education pastor charged me with in their addresses.

And as I turned back to my computer, blank screen still facing me, God upheld God's end of the bargain. God was with me, and God would eventually teach me what to say. Slowly, words would fill the screen. Another lesson, another message, another sermon would take shape.

And it would be both like and unlike whatever I might have expected when I first planned out that sermon and its overarching series.

The Spirit still moved. It still pushed me in unexpected ways and unexpected directions, demanding that I say things I might not have thought I'd say, teach things I had not before fully comprehended, and proclaim a Word that in truth I will never fully understand.

Yet I could still be led by God. For five years ago today, I promised to always allow myself to be led by God first and foremost.

Whatever else has happened and will happen since, I will never regret my having made that promise. After all, I already belonged to God. Promising to serve God's will seemed the very least I could do.

What a life-changing five years it has been.

Vancouver, Washington
June 11, 2016

The accompanying image is of me, fully vested in the alb, stole, and pectoral cross of pastoral ministry, signing my denomination's ministry code of ethics as my mother looks on at my ordination service.

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