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.

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