As some of you know, I was called to serve as an assistant priest at a church last month. I happily accepted the call, and began planning all the details of my new job and our new life in a new city.
Then, out of the blue, there was trouble. My call was rescinded. The vestry blocked my being hired for reasons I will never know. Was it the funding? Was it me as a candidate and as a person? I do not know. I will probably never know.
I have been heartbroken ever since. I have grieved everything that I had planned to have: great benefits, a good salary, a new life and ministry in a church I had thought was healthy. A purpose: that I was fully called just like all my classmates who are already well settled into priestly positions at great churches. I continue to grieve the required “cure” for priestly ordination that I have worked so hard to finally get in a year when there have been fewer jobs than there normally would. I have questioned my calling, my skills, my entire personhood. I have questioned whether there is truly a place for someone like me in the church. I am only beginning to come out on the other side as a wiser, though likely more cynical person, who still needs some healing to happen, and who still needs a job.
“These things happen for a reason, you probably dodged a bullet!” Even when it’s true, even when I know that I am a happy, healthy, lucky, privileged-as-all-getout person who is still able to pay rent and afford food despite this, it is still painful. I remember being unemployed as a single, younger adult, and there were times when I was quite desperate. I am not even as close to being as desperate as I was then. Yet, I have been grateful to those who have sat with me in the pain and disappointment, who have not just moved on and said, “you’ll find something better!” I am not yet convinced that I will find anything else, and I have appreciated those who have held that, and who have held me.
Before my call was rescinded, I wrote and sent an introduction of myself to go in the church newsletter. I enjoyed writing it, even thought I was given a short deadline. Here is the introduction of me that never happened: a call story, and even in this disappointment, a reminder as to why I’m still doing this: a reminder in the words that I myself wrote – Is it not when we feel most insignificant and unprepared that God will suddenly catch our eye, and call us into service?
One of my favorite memories of having been a kid in church is from when I was 10 years old. I was sitting with my family in the pews one Sunday. At that time, our Catholic Church only allowed boys to be acolytes. Only altar boys could perform various tasks in the Eucharist like ringing the sanctus bells, or handling the bread or wine. On that particular Sunday, the altar boys had failed to show. As we sang the offertory hymn and passed the offering baskets, our priest suddenly made eye contact with me all the way from the altar. He motioned me to come up to him. I looked behind me, in front of me, and to my left and to my right. Who, me? Surely he wasn’t asking for my help? But he was, and I nervously approached the altar. He asked me to help him, and I did. I assisted the priest in setting the table for the Eucharist, handing off the elements, and washing his hands with the lavabo bowl. These were tasks I had never done before, and were tasks I was (technically) not supposed to do. Yet I did them, learning how on the spot. On that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of meaning and belonging that I had never felt before at church: I had helped prepare the Eucharist! I felt like I was an important part of the parish, and that I had a new and special way to contribute. Is it not when we feel most insignificant and unprepared that God will suddenly catch our eye, and call us into service?
I am so excited to begin my ordained ministry by serving here as your associate! It is clear to me that the parish deeply cares for its children and youth, and for their growth and development as Christians. It is also clear that parishioners of all ages are hungry for more organized ministry opportunities for young people and their families.
I believe that children and youth are already full members of the Church. As such, they should be actively involved and engaged in all the different activities of our faith community, including worship, education, service, and fellowship. The enthusiasm and love shown by children and youth can help transform all of us to be better people and Christians: after all, Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel that we are to receive the Kingdom of God as would a little child! We adults need to always grow in our ability to trust and encourage our children and youth. By sharing our sacramental life together, we can help them discover their own sense of meaning and belonging at church, if we faithfully walk with them through the happy and difficult times of life.
I hope you will walk with me this year as we will seek to create more varied and rich experiences in Christian formation and worship for all ages. I look forward to meeting all of you, and to worshipping, learning, and playing together!