Sunday, April 4, 2010

My call

During March 2010, I was ordained as a transitional deacon at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Casper, Wyoming. (See the pictures here.)

Someone in an EfM Online group asked me this question: How did you hear the call to ordained ministry? It took me a long time to get started - there were so many places to start. I finally ended up with this story.


I am envious of people who hear a call and recognize it for what it is. One of my sisters knew from the time she was in 2nd grade that she would be a teacher, and she is. My cousin knew her whole life that she would be a nurse, and she is. Some other cousins recognize a calling to be waitresses. They love it, and that is what they have done all their lives.

But I never have known exactly what I wanted to do. I had ideas: My first career choice was bookkeeper, as I thought that is the job done by librarians. At different times I wanted to be a teacher or a cellist. I quit college when I was 20. I went back when I was 30. I chose business because it seemed sort of general, and I wasn't sure what I really wanted to do. I got a degree in Finance when I was 35. I went to work for the State of Wyoming in 1991 with a plan to stay for a few months till something better came along. I have been there ever since - coming up on my 19th anniversary. Now I am an administrative law judge - that was not my plan but a door opened when I was trying to make a decision about some things in my life. I prayed, and this job seemed to be the answer.

God and church have nearly always been in my life. I have talked about my "frozen chosen" sort of background. It was partly the era but also partly the leadership of my congregation. The priest ran everything in our church except the kitchen and the altar guild. His wife ran those. Girls did certain things, and boys did others. Girls sang in the Girls' Choir. Boys had their own, but they also got to acolyte. Girls not only did not acolyte, but I didn't even think to ask about it.

I liked church. I got perfect attendance in Sunday School in the days when the teacher kept track. I chose to get up and go to church when I could drive myself. I walked to the Cathedral often when I lived in Laramie the first time I went to college. I went to church in Hawai'i when I lived there. I floated for a number of years as a young adult, but I went back.

I graduated from high school in 1974, the year the first women were ordained as Episcopal priests. I think I remember reading about the event, although it happened in late July 1974 and I was working at a Girl Scout camp then, so maybe I read about it later. I remember wondering why anyone would even want to be a priest.

I moved to Casper in 1997, and chose the smaller of the two Episcopal churches here in town. It didn't take long to get involved, and before I knew it, I was elected as a delegate to our diocesan convention.

It was at one of my first diocesan conventions that I heard about Mutual Ministry. Sally Boyd, an Episcopal priest in at St. Francis on the Prairie in the small town of Wright, Wyoming, talked about their experience. I was fascinated, but thought, "Not for St. Stephen's."

A few years later, our part-time rector announced his retirement. When he made his announcement, I had been senior warden for 3 years. The congregation/vestry convinced me to stay on as senior warden another year until his retirement. We got through that year, and called an interim priest. The vestry asked me to stay on another year to help with that transition.

Shortly after the interim left, the congregation made the difficult decision that we could not afford to call another rector. We finally decided to join the diocese's Mutual Ministry program.

So by that time our diocese had quite a bit of experience in Mutual Ministry (which we mostly call Shared Ministry now). The reason I think this works as well as I think it works in Wyoming is that the diocese supports the process. We pay a portion of our income to the diocese for the support, but we don't pay a rector directly.

Kathy Robinson is our Ministry Developer. She is employed by the diocese to work with 5 churches in Shared Ministry. With her help, we started with a program called "Rooted in God" written by our Canon for Ministry Development, Margaret Babcock. A group of interested people worked through that program, and eventually wrote a Rule of Life for the congregation.

We then spent months figuring out what we had paid the rector to do. After that, we wrote job descriptions, and divided them into ministry groups. We ended up with five ministries with multiple teams on each: Pastoral Care, Liturgy, Administration, Evangelism, and Vision/Education. We had some discernment days, where we discussed where we felt called, and where others saw us. Eventually, we filled the ministries and teams with folks who felt called to those ministries.

We formed a Ministry Support Team, consisting of representatives of each of the five ministries, which meets monthly with our Ministry Developer to help coordinate the activities of the 5 ministries, and to coordinate with the vestry.

The last job descriptions we wrote were for deacon and priest. After we wrote those, we settled on a plan to call priests. We put some little forms out, and a big gold jar. They were out from the first week of Advent through Epiphany. Parishioners could write the names of those they saw as priest on the papers. No one (to my knowledge) looked at the papers. After Epiphany, two people who were not in consideration as priest sorted and counted the papers. Then they met with the Ministry Support Team to discuss the list. After all that, they let two of us know that we had been called.

My call went like this: I had just come off the 7th year of senior warden. I was in the habit of taking on odd tasks - for instance, I still tell senior wardens it is their job to check the toilet paper and paper towels before big events. So at Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, we had an infestation of ants. Someone sprayed bug spray into a cupboard containing some open boxes of crackers. (I never did know why we kept open boxes of crackers, but we did.)

I was sitting on the floor throwing away crackers with bug spray and wiping up dead ants. People were saying things like, "You mean you are throwing away all those crackers?" and "You missed an ant." I was getting a bit testy in a laughing sort of way, and I was pushing my glasses up with my middle finger so they could all see it.

Two people crooked their fingers and asked to talk to me. That is when they told me the congregation had called me to be a priest.

I didn't think it would be me. Earlier in the years of senior wardenhood, I would have guessed so. But I thought enough people were tired of me bossing them around for 7 years, and there were other people with priestly qualities who were on my own list.

So it was a surprise to me. I couldn't talk or think about it for a while. I finally started talking to a few people. I started figuring out the vocabulary for priest, and Eucharist, and so on, in Spanish, and then I found I could think about it. It still took me a long time to say Yes. I had some concerns: from my own experiences, I know how hard it is on lay people when clergy act like humans. Besides, when you get a lot of clergy in one room, they develop a sort of hormone that I dubbed Priest-osterone. It is sometimes just too much for me.
However, once I decided I was going to say yes, it was affirming to tell people. People have told me that they knew long ago that I should be a priest. This is sort of worrying, because what else do people know about me that I don't know?

I have typed enough for one night, and you have probably read all you can stand for now.

So more about formation in another post.

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