Ordination Tears

Ordination Tears July 10, 2012

I have a friend who always cries at happy endings.  The first time this happened in my presence I looked at him incredulously…I mean, it was a movie with a really happy ending, no need to cry!  Always, he informed me, he cries…really cries…when things end happily.  I admit: I never really understood his tears of happiness. 

This weekend, however, I had a hard time keeping the tears at bay, and I realized that sometimes happiness calls for tears.  Around here we ordained a candidate for ministry.  And, I cried.  A lot.

I wrote the sermon for Sunday worship in which we ordained Morgan.  All through its writing I cried.

I talked with my colleagues about the service, what we wanted to say, how we wanted to structure everything.  Sniffle.

I had to preach that sermon.  Voice tight, a few errant tears, Kleenex in the pulpit.

I got to help preside over the laying on of hands. Sobbing.

Why the crying?  I wondered.  This is a happy event!  There’s no reason to cry, right?  Maybe, or, more likely, maybe not.  I tried to understand why the tears were so close to the surface these past days and so much a part of the actual ordination. 

Here are some reasons I think I cried:

  1. I love Morgan, who was being ordained.  That in itself, of course, is not really a reason to cry, as she is wonderful and has been such an important part of my life these past two years.  But I guess I felt a little bit like a parent, so proud to see her follow through on this rigorous process, so impressed with the ways in which she has matured and begun to live into her pastoral calling, so hopeful about everything she can and will do for the future church, wherever she is called to lead.  So, these tears for Morgan are happy tears…they are proud and hopeful tears, optimistic and excited tears.
  2. All of this makes me remember my ordination.  While the memory gets foggier and foggier every day, I do remember the process I went through to be ordained at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans in 1997.  It has been 15 years; there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but while I don’t remember many of the words that were said on that occasion so long ago, I do remember the experience of being blessed.  I remember Rev. Sharlande Sledge…the first woman I ever saw preach in my entire life, who gave me permission to think maybe I could, too…traveling from Waco to New Orleans to preach the service.  I remember dear family members who bought me my first clerical robe.  I remember the strains of Be Thou My Vision, sung during the service.  I remember the blurry green carpet on which I kneeled, hanging onto disintegrating Kleenex for dear life while so many people blessed me.  I remember the chalice and paten, a gift from Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco,Texas, where I was licensed.  I remember the beautiful reception St. Charles gave to celebrate.  I remember.  And those memories make me shed tears, not sad tears…they are nostalgic and grateful tears, regret-that-I-can’t-remember-everything tears, wistful and, yes, happy tears.
  3. And, perhaps closest of all these days, this whole process calls to mind the real, live experience of ordained ministry.  While I can’t remember many of the exact details of my ordination service, I do most certainly remember the hope and optimism that pervaded my thinking; the sense of unwavering conviction and commitment to my faith and calling; the defiant sense that no one could tell me what God was or was not calling me to do…that was for me to hear and answer; the full and unreserved sense that the work of the church was hopeful and life-giving; the determination that, if I could just get a chance to lead, together some church and I could create a community in which the Gospel transforms us and transforms our world.  Oh my, the tears.  They are tears of remembering all of that optimism of youth and tears of longing for a more simple faith, a more unreserved conviction.  They are tears of hurt and pain at the considerable personal cost of ministry.  They are tears of disappointment in the institutional church and tears of disillusion with some people who call themselves Christians.  They are tears of weariness and, sometimes, tears of hopelessness as I look out over the future and wonder how…how will the Kingdom of God keep coming to be in the strange future ahead of us?  But…most of all, they are happy, happy tears of gratitude: for the calling of God in my life, for the tremendous journey it has been this far, for the evidence all around me of hope trumping discouragement and shreds of conviction still overcoming disillusionment, for the dear and wonderful lives whose paths have crossed with mine, and for the future of the Church which is held firmly in the hands of God.  Most of all, happy tears.

So many tears this weekend, and they were happy tears.  I guess I’ll have to apologize for laughing as my friend sniffles through the happy ending of every movie he watches.  I realize that I, too, am a cry-er of happy tears. 

Please pass the Kleenex.

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