I had the privilege of being part of a friend's ordination council last night. It was a sacred time of listening to her call story, questioning how God is working in her, and supporting and affirming her God-given ministry. As I looked around at the faces of my church family and friends, I was immensely grateful for the journey that has led me to this point.
It was close to eight years ago that I was sitting in a similar place, yet surrounded by people less familiar. We had moved to Roanoke upon my husband's graduation the year before for his calling to the church in which I then sat, yet I felt like an outsider. While I had moved my membership with my husband (as part of his job process), I had scarcely attended as I ministered in a different setting on Sundays. Now, I was nearing my graduation from seminary and felt that ordination would be an affirmation of my role as minister. Particularly as a woman in ministry in an area that wasn't always friendly to the idea of a female in the pulpit, I hoped that it would be a seal of approval, a sort of accreditation. This church had two women on staff and had ordained others, so I wasn't particularly concerned. Besides, I had studied up and knew all the answers (or so I thought). I could spout off my theology, the doctrine of the Trinity, my views in the role of the minister as a servant leader, a bunch of random Church history and Christian traditions...I had basically created my own Cliff Notes of my 4-year seminary experience. I was ready.
Eight years later, reflecting back, I smile at my well-intentioned naivete. One minister on last night's ordination council mentioned how we focused more on my friend's call story and personal anecdotes from ministry than her theology, and that's when I noticed the difference. My council had been all about what I thought were the "right" answers, facts, theology, hermeneutics. I had little to no personal information or experience from which to share. In my youth, I was full of idealism, and perhaps a bit of self-righteousness. I was ready to change the world. Little did I know how much ministry would actually change me.
- I had not expected the tears (of pride, blessing, exhaustion, fear?) that sprung up after my questioning.
- I had not yet faced my local Baptist Association ordination council, that would be cut short by embarrassment and lack of a quorum because of the number of local ministers who refused to take part in the ordination of a woman.
- I had not experienced the way God's calling could change, seeming to disappear, or how doubts would plague me.
- I had not foreseen how the church (and Church) would break me and push me and my husband away (quite literally).
- I did not imagine the darkness of burnout or the politics that would make my role as minister seem irrelevant.
- I had not felt the depths of despair or the heights of joy I would encounter.
- I had not had to fight my way back, to church, to faith, to passion.
- I had not experienced the healing of my current church and calling.
- I could not know that every hurt, every painful moment would be redeemed, although the scars would remain.
- I did not know the strength that God would provide, reminding me that it was never about me, and could never be about MY ministry or MY answers.
I am still on the journey, thanks be to God, and I remain incredibly grateful for those who have journeyed with me, sharing the burdens, hurts, healing, and joys. If I have learned any great lessons, it is that:
it is not about me, I am not in control, I am not alone. AMEN!