This week I remember and celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word And Sacrament, which is what we called it in those days. In some ways no one could have been more surprised than I was, because I was not formed in a tradition that believed in or supported the call of women to the pulpit and positions of leadership in the Church. Yet as a mother of young children, I began with others, men and women both, to reexamine the texts of Old and New Testament, and became convinced that what I had been taught about traditional roles for women and for men in the Church had been inadequate at best, and in some cases was just inaccurate. I did not immediately recognize that the call to equality in all relationships in the family of God was a call to me to ordination. However, beloved ones around me recognized the call, and gently, persuasively nudged me through the process of discernment and preparation. Until one day I was ready!
And thus began my own journey to ordination, slow, deliberate, undramatic, yet with each step of inquiry, discernment, study I took, the call of the ministry, even preaching, unfolded. There I was with a robe and a stole, a charge and a ministry, and from a wagggish friend, a name tag that said “RevMsLiz.” It was in saying “yes” to that call that I became all I was meant to be, at least in the moment. I love the calling!
I loved preaching, even though I had not been sure that I wanted to do it. I loved the work of it, the intellectual wrestling, the deep reflection, the bafflement in trying to make sense of s certain sacred texts. I also loved the way in which in each process of birthing a sermon, there was a challenge for my own journey and a deepening understanding of who I was becoming and what I was being asked to do. I loved placing the sermon in the artful architecture of the liturgy, so that the entire worship event became a prayer, speaking and listening, responding and acting. I loved the interaction with the congregation, who either heard the Word in a way they never had, or who heard something else completely, something I did not even say! And I even loved the dawning realization over the years that most people didn’t hear much, didn’t retain much of what I said, but were just glad to be in the House of the Holy on a Sunday morning, to be in the presence of the One they loved. What I brought was the most focused expression of body, spirit and mind of which I was capable in service of the One who had called me and in service to the people to whom I was called.
I loved the three congregations that I served, and I loved the seminary community in which I was placed. Each of those communities challenged me in faith and in stamina. My learning curve was steep, and it continues to be. That learning curve, accompanied by the Spirit, was the real faith journey: can God forgive even in those circumstances? and those people? Are there final defeats when I am at work in the fields of the Lord? How do I keep functioning with the thorns in the flesh I am heir to? The answer to all of those questions in a both inclusive, but particular way, is Grace: Grace that was sufficient, it turned out, were I to cooperate with it–Grace to let go of the outcome, Grace to let God be the judge, Grace that keep bringing me safely home step by step.
I am thrilled by the generations of preacher women who are coming up after me; there are so many compared to the day I started out. Some are dramatic and flashy; some are quiet and faithful; most are effective. Some are prophetic, some are pastoral, some are both. When I heard a former intern of mine preach on Grace this past Sunday, my heart was full, because I see how the Grace keeps overflowing into the new manifestations of Church, into new configurations for gathering in worship and service, into the hearts and minds of the worlds God loves.
By God’s grace I am preaching this Sunday, back in the pulpit again. I have some qualms–different tradition, different congregation, a little out of practice. But I claim the call, and with Grace, step up to the moment and preach again. And I believe the Holy One will be glorified!