Friday, September 3, 2010

A Stolen Moment

I spent the summer covering for my pastor during her 3-month sabbatical. When she returned she gave me a box of books that she had left over from seminary. On top of the box was a folded green stole. "Someone left this here," she said, "and I already have one this color so I though you might want it."
And thus begins the story of how I acquired my first stole.

I had imagined being presented with my first stole at my ordination...a gift of love and hope for the future lovingly made by my home congregation, or someone special in my life. Hand-stitched, ornate, and extraordinary in the fact that it would be my first - a symbol of a milestone moment in my life.
But instead my first stole came folded atop a box of musty ordinary swatch of cloth presented in an ordinary moment.
The lesson here: as much I want to romanticize this journey that I'm on, it's still all about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary happenings in life.

The stole is now draped across the garment bag that holds my pulpit robe, and hangs on the door of our spare room. Every time I catch a glimpse of it while walking down the hallway, for a split second I wonder why my pastor's robe is hanging in my home. Then I realize that it is my robe. My robe that now has a stole draped across it that I have not yet earned the right to wear. Every time this happens my breath catches as I contemplate how my identity is about to change. I've been given a glimpse of the future, and it feels right.

At this time last year I was preparing to put the robe on for the first time. I bought two in preparation for my Field Ed placement, only to be told when I got there that "Field Ed students do not robe at this church." It was the ultimate in ironies. I felt like I had finally adjusted to the idea of wearing a robe, after resisting it on a previous occasion, and now I was being denied the opportunity to adopt the authority that the robe represents. The kicker is that I knew the previous Field Ed student at this church had worn a robe on several occasions as had other students.
The pastor objected to students wearing robes because he believes the robe is a sign of ordination, not just the stole...and he chose to enact this new policy with me.

The funny thing is, after spending two months assisting in worship and doing children sermons, he abruptly changed his mind right before I was to preach my first sermon. He had decided that I was "worthy" of wearing a robe.

It felt good to put it on. To feel its weight on my shoulders. To try on the role of "pastor" and realize that despite all my insecurities, it felt right.
By the end of the spring I was leading worship all on my own at my Field Ed church, a first as I was told by long-time members. That coupled with the opportunities I had to do pastoral care and lead an adult ed Lenten series gave me the confidence I needed to step into the role of interim pastor at my home church this summer.
Now I see that robe and stole hanging on the back of the spare room door and I realize how far I've come, and how close I am to achieving what it is that I've been working close I am to having the opportunity to answer God's call and making God's work my life's work.

But you know what? I don't need the robe or the stole to validate the choice I've made to pursue the ministry. Spending the summer as a substitute pastor gave me all the validation I need. Leading worship every week, presiding at my first graveside service, visiting congregants in the hospital, driving them to doctor's appointments, sitting with them for hours after they've learned a loved one has died, and just hanging out with them and catching up during coffee hour. That's what ministry is about, and I loved every moment of it. The congregation was gracious enough to pay me for my services, but I would have done it for free. That's how I know that I've made the right choice.

My first stole may not be the one that I'll end up wearing at my ordination, but it's definitely not an ordinary stole. It gave me the opportunity to look into the future and to embrace what is to come. That's a lot of power for a swatch of green fabric.
Once again, the ordinary gives life to the extraordinary.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Emporer Has No Clothes

Awake at 5:58 in the morning with my head buzzing and the adrenaline flowing.
Must be time to go back to school!

Here I am back on my blog, knocking down the cobwebs and dusting off the "Open for Business" sign. It's been ages since I've posted anything here that wasn't a sermon. I'm still blaming facebook for it's ability to entice me with short status updates and the lack of the need to go deep with each posting. It's all about quantity, not quality. On FB I can post my daily witticisms and be off and running in a flash. It's hit and run writing. Never mind that I waste hours checking everyone else's status updates and playing Frontierville. FB takes less thought then blogging.

I also blame paper writing and sermon writing. They both sap the creative bug right out of me. If I'm reflecting as a requirement in my daily doings why come here to reflect more?

But I fear the real reason why this blog has been silent is because it's lost its anonymity. Too many people know about it. My family. My friends. People at school. People at church. People in my denomination who are geared to decide my fate in the ordination process in the not too distant future.

It began to get freaky to walk into a family gathering or into church and have people reference something I wrote on my blog. I felt exposed. As if they knew my deepest wonderings and fears while I knew nothing about theirs. I felt as if they had an unfair advantage. I was standing naked before them while they remained fully clothed.
I also feared saying something, or complaining about something, that I didn't want certain people to hear. My online diary suddenly became a very visible act of confession.

It was fine when my daily readers were all fellow bloggers. People who did not know me and who were not apt to know the people or situations that I was writing about. We commiserated in our commonalities because we had the protection of distance and anonymity.
But I'm not sure I want the people I share a pew or a classroom with knowing the deepest longings of my heart.

Which is why this blog has been silent.
Sermons are different. Sermons are crafted for others to hear, and the focus is rarely on me.
But how do I reveal my insecurities about entering the ministry when I know pastor colleagues, some who will decide my fate, are reading my blog?
How do I explore (or rant about) a seminary experience when I know my fellow students are visitors here?
How do I express dissatisfaction with a church, or a pastor, when I never know who will be listening?

Perhaps I just need to forge ahead uncensored and lay it all out there for others to see. To be true to myself and my experience.
Or perhaps I need to change the nature of this blog and prepare for the day when as a church pastor I can no longer hide behind the protection of anonymity.

Why did I tell people I know about this blog if I wanted to keep it as a safe haven?
Because I didn't realize at the time that I needed it to be that.
It came up in conversations, links were sent out in dribs and drabs. I shared it with a chosen few and soon I had no control over who had access to it.
I wanted to share. I wanted people to live vicariously through my experiences. I wanted people to read my sermons and offer their feedback, both complimentary and via constructive suggestions for improvement.
I wanted to bare my soul in a way that my introverted tendencies kept me from doing in real life.
And in doing so I have become closer to my family and my friends who took the opportunity to say "I loved what you wrote, I feel the same way!"

But then people I barely know, or who have power over me, began finding there way here.
And I went silent.

In reality this is probably much to do about nothing.
I've been posting my sermons for a year and a half but with no comments left in that time so I doubt if anyone I know still visits here.
Which may mean it's safe to come back.

I welcome family members and those I felt close enough to share this link with.
And with distant acquaintances and denominational bigwigs alike being subjected to my inane Facebook postings, I'm slowly losing my fear of letting it all hang out.
Since my fundamentalist Christian and Republican facebook friends have graciously put up with my lefty liberal status updates without any dire consequences, I should have no reason to fear doing the same here.
I am who I am.

So, excuse me while I run about with my Swiffer duster, pulling up the shades and opening the windows to let some fresh air in here.
I have one more year as the 40-(something)-year-old Seminarian, and looking back at my initial posts from 3 years ago I realize now how valuable this venue has been for my growth.
I have to write about my I will never forget how far it is I've come.
Put out the welcome mat.
Things are about to get real busy around here.