Wednesday, June 1, 2011

To a Friend on Her Ordination

Dear Friend,

Today I received the invitation to your ordination in the mail.  I will be there, of course, celebrating with you at long last.  That will not be a day for the grief to creep in and mix with the joy.  Nonetheless, sadness and anger temper my happiness at seeing that invitation in the mail.  It is a good grief, a necessary grief, an earned grief, and needs to find expression somewhere.  Not on the day of your ordination.  And so it finds its voice here.

When we met, you were only a year behind me in seminary, and it was easy for me to believe that your path to ordination would be no harder than mine.  I am now certain that you knew better, although no one would have known it then.  You were the most unabashedly positive person I knew about ministry, the most energetic, and one of the most gifted.  No one seemed to want you, so you took a tiny church no one wanted, and loved them and let them love you.  It's still a pretty small church, but not nearly as small as it was then.  While I've moved between three positions, you've stuck it out with them.  Occasionally I've visited, and we've pounded the pavement, stapling up posters advertising your next pet blessing or Easter service, and I've been reminded that although I work hard, you work harder.  My youth group has painted your church and fallen in love with you and the community you've created, and returned to ask their elders why we, who have so much more, don't run a soup kitchen and food pantry and 12-step ministry the way you do.  They all want to move to Brooklyn, and I blame that on you.

In the meantime, you also fell in love, and got married.  As a consequence, I found myself standing with you and your family in front of our denominational assembly as they stripped your father, a lifelong servant of the church, of his credentials - almost as though they had never existed at all, as though he had not led their seminary or taught their pastors.  Of course, after that, they weren't going to really acknowledge that you existed either.  So they kept you in the church no one wanted but refused to ordain you, to support you or make you official.  And still you held on and hoped, even when those who opposed you were most cruel and those who claimed to support you were most apathetic.

By the way, if this is what we mean when we promise to love, support, and encourage those we baptize, I'm surprised more people don't opt out.

I can't give you this letter.  Not yet, anyway, not when you are being ordained in a week.  Maybe sometime later, because I want you to know how very happy I am that you are finally able to take this step.  But I also want you to know how angry I am that you can't do it within the church family that you have always loved so well, even while they spit all over you.  We have been blessed to have you ministering in one of our churches, and would have been even more so to count you among our clergy.  Our loss is the UCC's gain.

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