This Sunday I heard a powerful sermon. The Rev. Lisa Hunt, rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, offered a reflection on the conflict between who we are and what we do. Citing the Israelites recovering from the oppression of the Babylonians, Lisa noted that outside circumstances in our lives make it difficult for what we do to fully reflect who we are: a beloved and powerful child of God.
She went on to note that this contrast is especially challenging in the United States where such value is placed on what we do. In our culture often the first question asked is, “What do you do?” We are fixated on the work or the product of someone rather than the interests or passions that drive one another. This fixation can becoming especially discouraging when, for one reason or another, the structure of our lives change and we are unable to achieve or perform to our desired standards. Lisa encouraged us to remember that what we do, or do not do, does not define who we are as a person. Our understanding is that God’s divine presence is within and available to us all and in that, we can find hope, no matter our circumstances.
I walked away with a reminder that it is my life’s work to discern how, at each present moment, God is calling me to embody the love, light, and power of Christ. In other words, I am continually wrestling to unite what I do with who I am. This sermon was especially poignant as it came three days after I got a letter admitting me as a Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.
In non-Episcopal language, this is one of the major steps on the pathway to becoming an ordained leader in the Episcopal Church. In August I submitted an application to the Diocese of Massachusetts (the official leadership of the Episcopal Churches in Eastern MA) that expressed my desire to pursue ordained leadership in the church. There are three ordained leadership positions in the Episcopal Church: priests, deacons and bishops. Ordained leaders make a commitment to develop the capacity of Christians and the church community to create a world that reflects God’s deepest desires. In the Episcopal Church ordained leadership requires that the internal call you hear to leadership be affirmed by the church community. Last Thursday I received the letter from church leadership in Massachusetts saying, “Yes, we recognize this call in you and we want to support you in becoming an ordained minister.”
I am thrilled about this response. My call to ordained ministry has developed over time; I first thought about being an ordained minister at age 7 or 8 when I used to preach to my stuffed animals. I realize now that leading the church as an ordained minister is much more than preaching. It is the work of building a sacred community in which people, through relationship with God and one another, come to know who we “are” and have the ability to create pathways in which we can “do” our work in the world.
Our service Sunday included the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise after realizing that she holds within her the living Christ:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name
Once again, these words had special meaning to me last Sunday. I continue to feel similarly to Mary, surprised, humbled, and grateful to learn of the ways I work with God. There is also a deep sense of joy in the fact that this possibility of ministry would support the church community that has given so much to me over the years. I am certainly blessed.
This journey is far from over; I have one big decision remaining, whether I will pursue ordination as a deacon or a priest. After that there are about four more years of applications, studying and exams. Over the next four years the church will continue to seek God’s guidance and there is a chance that I will not move forward. There is great vulnerability in that, and I would LOVE your prayers and support as we piece that out together. However, I would mostly like for you to join me on the scary and uncertain work of discerning. Though our “doing” might be different, our “being” is the same. More than anything I hope for people to join me in taking risks, exploring our desires, and changing our ways so that we embody Christ’s love, power, and light in a way that fits our gifts and the needs of our world.
To join in this work together, click here. I’m coming together with a group of leaders in the Episcopal Church to support small groups across the country as they form communities committed to, together, seeking to know Jesus intimately and to live out his call boldly. This community will be called Katallasso: A Community of Reconciliation, you can learn more about us here.