Thursday, July 8, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Twenty Years

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Twenty years ago today (June 9) in Manhattan in the gigantic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I knelt next to ten other recent seminary graduates. We were robed in white albs, surrounded by more than a thousand parishioners, family members and, because this is St. John the Divine, tourists.

Already, it had been an eventful day. We were one of the few classes who had the cool-factor of a movie star, Matthew Broderick, reading the Old Testament lesson. We had already heard the sermon of a deacon who spoke about prisons, her motorcycle and the unusual situations ordained ministry will bring to you.

Then had come the bishop’s examination of each of us. He asked the formulaic questions, and we replied with the same rehearsed precision:

Do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a deacon?

I believe I am so called.

Do you now in the presence of the Church commit yourself to this trust and responsibility?

I do.

On and on went the questions until finally, there we were, kneeling, the bishop who laid his hands on each of us in turn: “Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to (Name); fill him with grace and power, and make him a deacon in your church.”

All that was left was receiving our stoles – mine needled-pointed by my mother – and we were deacons.

In our church, there are two types of deacon. There are deacons and then there are transitional deacons. I was a transitional deacon. That meant that I would be ordained at a later date as a priest. The priesting is what I really looked forward to, but that was many months away. What mattered at the end of that day was that my ordained ministry had begun.

Now, twenty years isn’t really all that big a deal in ordained ministry. It’s just another number, as they say, and I know many priests celebrating forty and more years of ministry. But every milestone, no matter how small, gives us a chance to pause and review what we’ve been doing.

That preacher was right. I’ve been in prisons and jails, hospitals and nursing homes. I’ve worked in schools and on sports teams, with youth groups and seniors. Sometimes when it looks like I’m doing nothing, my most challenging work is going on because I’m holding up in prayer those who come my way.

Now, as I look back, I realize I’ve spent more than half my ordained life here in Hyde Park. It is lively, exhilarating, frustrating, fun and moving. Just as surely as I knew on that day that ordained ministry was where I belonged so do I know that at this point in my life, Hyde Park is where I belong.

It doesn’t grow old because things always change – there is never a lack of work or need. Just this weekend, I walked in the Rural and Migrant Ministries Walk-a-Thon. This was an event to raise funds for their summer camp for children of migrant farm workers. Who would have guessed that just walking could be so important a part of ministry?

Next year, our congregation will celebrate its 200th Anniversary, certainly a lot bigger deal than a mere twenty. But it affords us the same opportunity – to look back a bit in order to be able to look forward.

And who knows where the future will bring us together? There are so many new ways to serve God in our community, I seriously doubt we will ever have to scratch our heads and feel at a loss for something to do. Whether it’s twenty years or two hundred, it’s just the beginning.