Ten years ago this Friday - on May 15, 2005 - a whole bunch of people I love lay their hands on my head and shoulders and, with the blessing of the Church and the collaboration of the Holy Spirit, ordained me.
The Laying On of Hands
(Collegeville, Minnesota, 2009)
Handiwork is rare in this trade.
We break bread others have kneaded,
pour wine of vines we did not prune.
Yet we ordain with our hands,
praying the Holy Spirit
navigate the labyrinth of fingerprints,
counterbalance the pressure of palms.
Fire, water, breath:
these our metaphors for her presence,
and we use our bare hands.
It was and is and ever shall be one of the most important days of my life. I wore a beautiful white dress, a dress I still wear once or twice a summer. Natalie and Jane, sweet sisters who were members of my congregation, bought it for me at Macy’s. The sanctuary was full of people: friends, family, members of First Christian Church of Pomona, and members of South Bay Christian Church (where I would soon be officially called to serve as pastor). I was showered with gifts - preaching commentaries, handmade stoles, communion sets. My beloved mentor Julie preached. The choir sang my favorite anthem (John Rutter’s arrangement of For the Beauty of the Earth). One of the great church leaders I have known, the late Rev. Don Shelton, gave the charge.
Somewhere in our unruly basement, there is a photograph of the actual moment of ordination, while my favorite preaching professor was praying and the weight of all the hands was heaviest. I can’t find the picture anywhere, but I remember that in it, I have a frown on my face. I remember feeling overwhelmed and unworthy, elated and humbled. I remember not being remotely clear on what was actually happening to me - was the Holy Spirit really moving among us, making me something new? I think I was a bit like Mary in the annunciation story. Luke says she was perplexed. Perhaps she knit her brow just as I did.
In my fruitless search for the moment-of-ordination photo, I’ve flipped through countless pictures in the last week or so. There are many from that era, when I was a newlywed, a seminarian, not yet the mother of Juliette and Genevieve. I cannot get over how very young I looked. My face was pockmarked with acne and my cheeks were chubby with youth. I was obsessed with my age. I was convinced that no one could take a twenty-four-year-old pastor seriously. I couldn’t wait until I was a more respectable age: thirty, thirty-four.
I don’t walk around feeling like an imposter all the time anymore (only some of the time). I’ve thankfully picked up some skills and confidence and competencies along the way. Still, I continue to be perplexed a lot. I continue to be in awe of what I don’t understand - the Spirit I cannot comprehend yet I trust is on the move.
I continue to knit my brow.
Time and sun and laughter and lots of brow-wrinkling as I fret and pray and ponder - I don’t look so young anymore. The fact that I’m a pastor no longer elicits hilariously rude comments from strangers.
It still amazes me that the call to ministry I discerned was affirmed by my mentors and friends and church. It still amazes me that South Bay Christian Church let me be their pastor. It still amazes me that even though I was utterly and completely out of my depth when I was ordained, I have, with the help of God, faithfully if imperfectly served as a minister of Word and Sacrament for ten years.
I bought a tube of anti-aging cream the other day as a funny little ordination anniversary gift to myself. Last night I rubbed it into the ever-deepening crease on my brow - the same place where I trace watery crosses in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the same place we thumb ashy ones, remembering we are dust, and to dust we shall return.
It’s a remarkable calling, a blessed life.