This past Sunday and yesterday, February 4th, we at St. Columba’s in Maine marked the fourteenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in 2006 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Brevard NC.
I was surprised last Sunday at St. C’s by Rev. Juliana Anderson’s spirited anointing and blessing on me, by the congregation’s thoughtful remembrance, and by the gorgeous red velvety confections which Tancy Mitchell lovingly made for us to celebrate a birthday and my anniversary. Tancy is kindly continuing a tradition which my dear friend, Cindy Rudd, started in Brevard so many years and miles ago. The tender prayers and anointing continued at our healing service on Tuesday, along with spirited and soulful conversations all day long and into the late evening.
While the pictures here show the joy of dear ones who wrapped me with blessings and love that day fourteen years ago, I must say I couldn’t feel much of anything at that time. Those early months and years of bereavement are a blur to me.
There is a face missing from all these pictures and it is Rick’s. Only nine months prior, in May of 2005, we had graduated from seminary at Sewanee. We were ordained to the transitional diaconate together just a month before he died in July of 2005. He could barely walk, his pain from cancer was almost too much to bear. Yet we persevered. In August of 2005 we buried Rick’s ashes in Kansas. His love has never left us. A few days later I packed up the house and kids in Sewanee, and a few weeks later moved us all to Brevard to immediately answer my calling as a curate at St. Philip’s. The first thing I did, the first week I was there, one month after Rick died in TN, was serve as deacon at a funeral in WNC.
I didn’t want to leave my beloved ones, I was too numb to protest the timing. It was, as Parker Palmer says, “something I can”t not do. I needed to earn a living for my family. Sometimes it’s our first calling to our families which propels us into our daily work, even though like prophets of old, we fear we are not up to the task.
My dear brothers from Sewanee … Tom, Porter, and Rob… stood tall in Rick’s place and kept me moving onward; along with my dear sisters in Christ… Laura, Katie, Anne, Ang, Betty, and Janet …who circled in with all my dear friends and family as we prayed and sung on that holy day.
It is said that a calling comes as something you can’t not do. Being a priest over all these years has been that for me, something I can’t not do.
This vocation, this calling, is not about my wanting it. It’s not about consolations of joy nor fulfillment. It’s not a reward for piousness. It’s not about achievement, nor longevity. God has gifted me with brokenness all along the way, from the very beginnings of my ordained life. God has gifted me with holy tears.
It’s quite simply, often much to my dismay, something I can’t not do.
Being ordained to ministry is not an inoculation which shields us from bereavement. We’re all called and ordained to our ministries in our baptism. We’re sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
None of us always feel up to these callings. It’s something we can’t not do. We all carry our heavy crosses. We’re merely and profoundly called to Love.
While these ordination pictures were being taken in Brevard NC, the people of St.Columba’s Episcopal Church in Boothbay Harbor ME were celebrating their first anniversary of ministries in their beautiful brand new shake-shingle church. It was built as Rick was dying. Indeed, Jesus had gone ahead and prepared a new place for Chloe, Max, and me… Safe Harbor. I simply couldn’t not be here today without my dear ones in Maine. Much healing has happened here.
I’m grateful to all of you dear ones– those nearby and far away, those seen and those gone from our sight– who have answered your own callings to follow the Way of Love with Jesus. I’m forever grateful. You’ve made all the difference in the world, to God be all Glory.