Eighteen Years

I remember the day clearly. I was 29 years old. I wore my dark brown suit with dark brown heels and a tiger-striped scarf in my hair. My robe was from the on-sale section at the Catholic supply store in Saint Paul, my red stole was made by my grandmother and was a hand-me-down from my father.

I was ordained at my home church – Good Shepherd in Henning, MN. It’s hard to explain how much an ordination day means to those who haven’t experienced it. The vows carry such weight, each word so full. The bishop asks:

“Before Almighty God, to whom you must give account, and in the presence of this congregation, I ask, ‘will you assume this office, believing that the Church’s call is God’s call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament?”

The ordinand responds: I will, and I ask God to help me.

Bishop: The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and are the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as the true witnesses and faithful expositions of the Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?

The ordinand responds: I will, and I ask God to help me.

Bishop: Will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you pray for God’s people, nourish them with the Word and the Holy Sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?

The ordinand responds: I will, and I ask God to help me.

Bishop: Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be known in all that you do?

The ordinand responds: I will, and I ask God to help me.

Bishop: Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.

The ordinand responds: Amen.

Then, prayers are said, blessings are given, the stole is placed on the ordinand’s shoulders, and finally the candidate is ordained. After four years of college, four years of seminary, countless approval essays, interviews, psychological testing, a year-long internship – I had a call to be a pastor.

That first call was in New York State – Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Newstead outside of Akron, New York – to be exact. After all that preparation and training and testing I so clearly remember standing by my window of my office on the first day and not having a clue what to do next. But then the phone rang, and then someone stopped by, and then eighteen years passed.

The feeling I have today is gratitude: the kind like when you sheepishly receive a gift you know you didn’t deserve. A gift you might have easily given back several times over the years, but one that you have come to understand is one of the most precious things you could ever have. I feel that way about this work. This simple, complicated, beautiful, infuriating, inexplicable work.

Eighteen years ago tomorrow, I packed up my two beloved cats, George and Sam, said “goodbye” to everyone who mattered most to me, and drove across several states – smoking Marlboros one after another, listening to the pile of cassette tapes next to me.  There was nothing but this calling, an invitation from a little German Lutheran church next to I-90, a hope, a prayer, a blessing placed on my head by the bishop and those gathered on my ordination day. Those things have proved to be enough. That is what God has always provided: enough.

I am thankful. For today and for anything God still has for me to do, my answer is still, “I will, and I ask God to help me.”

Listen…

September 12th was my 17th anniversary of ordination. I remember my ordination day so clearly – as one remembers any day that marks something significant. I woke up that morning in my parents’ house, had waffles and coffee with my mom, got dressed in my brown skirt and jacket, tied a scarf in my hair, and went to my home church in Henning for the service. So many friends and family came. We had a little lunch afterward. Within days after that I was driving east with my two cats, heading to my first call in Western New York. I remember it felt a little like stepping off a ledge to leave everything I knew behind to go where nothing was familiar to do work that I had no idea how to do. I got a terrible cold immediately and I was so immensely homesick the first days and weeks.

But friends came to visit and there was much to do. Before I knew it, I made a home there and new friends. Suddenly seventeen years have passed – years plum full of the cycle of the church seasons, weddings, births, and deaths – in my churches and in my own life. From far-flung churches in New York to Colorado to Texas, now my path has led back to only 54 miles from the place I was ordained.

The first day I went to my office at that first church I served in NY, I remember arriving at my office early and looking out the window which had a view of the cemetery. I had no idea what to do next…so I just prayed that God would lead me. Then the phone rang, and seventeen years passed. Still, each day, I pause and look out the window and pray that God will lead me, lead us, to what we are to do next…and the one thing that has not changed in seventeen years, is that I am certain God will. God will lead us. God is leading us. All we need to do is be still and listen and God will guide us in exactly the direction we need to go. Thanks be to God.

In these cool days of autumn, as the leaves change color all around us, I pray you will take time to listen for God. Take time alone to pray, to walk, to sit under a night sky and give thanks. Know that God is near to you in every moment, in your every breath, in your every joy and every need…and that the One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.