I’ve moved a lot. I change houses like some people change favorite jeans. I know how to set up a kitchen in less than a week, and make a new house feel like a home I’ve lived in for years.
Moving is not all about houses. It is also about leaving the familiar and moving to the unknown. It’s about changing out communities, finding new friends, and learning new places. It’s about losing and gaining things at the same time.
My favorite moving day story is from when I was sixteen. We were leaving a place we had been for four years that we didn’t really ever feel we could call home. There are various reasons for that, most of them are not my story to tell, but for my own part I was not leaving any friends my age behind. I was glad to be leaving.
Our driveway was black sand that ingrained itself in the carpet and any other surface it came into contact with. Each time I got into the family van, I would snap my feet together to shake the sand off my feet so that the sand transfer would be as minimal as possible. When I got in the car that final morning, I intentionally did not shake the sand off my feet, because I had run across the passage in Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples to shake the dust from their feet if they do not find welcome or listening ears. I didn’t shake the sand off my feet because I refused to say that the blessing of God’s peace was not present in that place, even if I hadn’t encountered peace while I was there.
On the last day when we were packed up and the house was clean and empty, we went to have breakfast with a couple that were friends with our family. They pulled out all the stops. Biscuits, eggs, sausage, and this amazing concoction of blueberries with sour cream and brown sugar. Don’t knock it until you try it. June is prime blueberry season in south Georgia. That breakfast was the final good memory to have in a place that didn’t have many other good memories.
Some moves are like that, a time to leave bad memories behind and move forward into new experiences. Some moves are heartbreaking, leaving behind longtime friends and loved spaces for the unknown. Some moves happen because of graduation or getting a new job or moving closer to family.
I imagine that my perspective on moving is different than most folks, because I grew up expecting to move, and I chose to work in a profession that expects me to move. I never expected to be in the same place for a very long time. I always wonder where the next place we will live will be, even if that new place and new move is a long ways off. It means that my roots don’t get very deep. But it also means that I am always looking to learn something new about the people I meet. I become more curious each time I find somewhere new. I always know that the blessings of God are present even if I don’t yet know where to look.
When I was twelve, the sixth grade Sunday school class lesson scheduled for the year was confirmation. Confirmation is an interesting practice that the United Methodist Church and other denominations use to shape and develop youth as they grow in Christian faith. We probably do it in part because our practice of baptism doesn’t revolve around believer’s baptism, and so we have created a way to celebrate a profession of faith in the midst of the life of the church for someone who grew up in the church. I think it is a good practice, mostly because it is a way to teach the foundations of faith and allow young learners to ask questions in spaces where it is safe to do so.
When I went through confirmation, it was with the group I had been in Sunday School with for the last six years. It was the last time I was with any particular group of people for such an extended period of time besides my immediate family. Even our girl scout troop was only together for five years. And I wonder why I don’t have concrete ideas of permanency. I haven’t even been with my husband that long yet.
Anyway. As I was saying. Confirmation.
I learned about the church, worship formats, Wesleyan heritage, Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, Welch’s Grape Juice, and other Methodist factoids. The class had a journal that I remember using for at least four months. We went on a Confirmation Retreat to St. Simons Island and Savannah, Georgia where we learned about John Wesley and the birthplace of Methodist in South Georgia. (Not exactly the way it happened… but South Georgia is pretty proud that Wesley walked under the Live Oaks and through the Spanish Moss there.)
All of our work and class-time culminated in a service of Confirmation during the Main Eleven O’clock Worship Service. We were all supposed to dress in white and sit together with our mentors on the very front row and then go up and kneel at the altar while we were confirmed before all the church. I didn’t have anything to wear, and my mother was still in her ‘make a dress for Kathy rather than go buy one’ phase. Good white dress material is hard to find. However, my very best friend growing up had lost her grandmother a year or two before then, and she still had some of the fabric from her collection. In the collection was a beautiful white fabric that hid a tint of purple depending on how you looked at it in the light. My mother took that fabric and made a beautiful dress out of it for me to wear when I was confirmed.
I still have that dress. It’s in the bottom of a drawer somewhere or in my collection of dress-up clothes, and I know it doesn’t fit anymore. It is still a really nice dress. I have been saving it for something. I don’t want to give it away. I want to keep it for my daughter, perhaps, or make a baptismal gown out of it for my children, or make a quilt out of it for my children. My children, of course, that I don’t have yet. I have moved that dress at least seven times since I grew out of it if not more.
I wore this dress for the first time that auspicious Sunday when I was confirmed. Kneeling at the altar, celebrating with my family, parents, sister, aunts and uncles, mentor Nancy, and fellow confirmands, I was celebrated as a full member of my church. As the Senior Minister and other teachers laid hands over me and prayed for me and my faith journey, I remember that moment as special, even if I don’t exactly remember all the details.
I would leave that church in a few short months because my father was being re-appointed. I went back a few times whenever we were visiting my grandparents, but my membership had moved on. The most recent time I went to worship at that church was for my Grandmother’s Memorial service. I read Isaiah 35 in the midst of the service which was a celebration of Janet’s life, love, ministry, and service in her church, community, and family. My membership began at that church, I was baptized at that church, confirmed when I returned, and now I could share a small part of my ministry with the gathered community present in worship.
Now I have been entered into a different membership. Friday, June 20th I was commissioned as a Provisional Elder in my conference of the United Methodist Church. Now, for those who are outside the process, this can get quite confusing, but, it provisionally places my membership in the conference, beyond the local church. In effect, it extends the mission of the church by naming me as a member of the gathered community rather than a specific church family.
Part of the commissioning service includes the Bishop laying hands on each individual being commissioned and praying over them by name. After examining us by asking us questions about our beliefs and willingness to serve the United Methodist Church, Bishop Goodpaster pressed his hands on my shoulders and invoked the Holy Spirit to be present and poured out over my ministry, sending me out to “proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to announce the reign of God, and to equip the church for ministry, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
My commissioning continues my call from my confirmation. From the laying of hands and the invoking of the Trinity at my baptism, through the confirming presence of the Spirit in my youth, to my submission to the call of God for me to be a pastor, God has been working in my life through others so that I can fulfill my call as a servant to the Church in God’s world.
I didn’t necessarily feel any different after the Commissioning service was over, but I did feel a great sense of relief along with a continued sense of responsibility to the Church. I don’t have to appear before the Board again this coming March, but now I have begun a new journey of discernment and growth.
Part of me still wishes I could have it more simple: wear a white dress and celebrate my faith. But my faith begs to be lived, not merely celebrated. God calls me to wrestle with the Word and help to build the Body in faith. It is a weighty call. I shall be courageous.
PS. Turns out I found that dress… and can put it on… kinda. Don’t worry. It doesn’t actually fit. Thought I’d share anyway. Sorry for the wrinkles. Check out those puffy sleeves!
I wrote this week about Doctor Who, the TARDIS, and Eucharist. It’s something I’d been thinking of since my Commissioning interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry. How appropriate therefore, that my post is on the Conference Blog the week after I was Commissioned as a Provisional Elder in my Conference.
A storm blew through our community last night just after sundown. The sun was setting in the west, and the storm was blustering in from the north and the east. It made for a pretty sky, but it also made the darkened storm clouds approach with a deeper darkness than we would have had otherwise. I love the way that storm clouds rush in over a landscape, and so I went to a neighbor’s yard to get some photographs with my phone. As I was taking the pictures, I looked back toward my house, and noticed that the storm had blown even closer, sinking us deeper into the dark. The wind was picking up as well, bending trees and whipping my hair around my face. Lightning flashed. It was time to get inside.
I get nervous when a storm approaches. I can feel the storm approach deep in my bones. I get antsy. If you try to have a serious conversation with me when a storm approaches expect unthoughtful, one word responses. Lightning and thunder make me startle and jump, and the rush of a heavy rain with possible hail makes me check the storm reports and the colour of the sky, just in case of tornadoes.
I also love storms. I love their power, I love their force, I love the way that they renew the earth with fresh water. I just need a little more comfort when they blow through.
I’ve gone through some storms recently in my personal life, when I really needed extra comfort. Watching the storm clouds brewing in abstract doesn’t give me nearly the same kind of joyful awe as seeing the ones that blew over us last night. Life storms—whether they are upheaval, heartbreak, or loss (sometimes all three at once)—tend to solely fill me with dread and utterly sap my energy. The comfort I sought, through my support system and reliance on God, didn’t shelter and protect me the same way that the roof over my head covered me last night. It is as if I am stuck in a picnic shelter in the midst of a huge rainstorm, and the wind is blowing nearly horizontal sometimes. I still felt the creeping cold of loss deep into my bones.
Perhaps I need to learn to build better storm shelters, dig myself a shelter deep in the ground somewhere, go hide until the storm blows over. But if the shelter is deep and secure enough, then I may not know when the storm has gone. I may hide in my shelter and never realize that the skies are blue again.
There is another problem with a shelter dug too deep. I am the only one inside it. Sure, folks can come and provide me with some essentials now and later, but a shelter that protects me from every single little thing has only space for me inside it. Not only is it lonely, it is also selfish. With a deep personal hiding hole, I don’t provide shelter or provision for others. I cannot help others with their storms and crises when I am sunk deep into the earth myself. Part of the way that I heal is by providing shelter for others. I can’t do that deep within my own insulating shelter.
And so I keep myself from digging a cellar in the ground, a metaphorical storm shelter that will insulate me from every single drop of hurt and brokenness. Instead, I expose myself to the storms, feeling the pain and hurt of those around me, looking for the way that each new storm will provide the space for new healing and renewing power. Because storms have power. They have the power to destroy, but they also carry energy to wash away the debris and detritus that have built up in our lives. Yes, destruction will occur. Objects, emotions, and relationships will be torn away. But what remains is space for renewal and rebuilding. The cold will seep deep into my core, but sooner or later the skies will clear and allow warmth and healing to begin.
The storm is not the end of the story. The storm does not speak the final word. The storm is a powerful, magnificent, awesome (in every sense of the word) force of nature. But the one who created nature is bigger, and has a bigger story to tell. And so I celebrate the storm. I know there is a sun shining right behind it.
Sunday is the most strenuous day of my vocation. I’m pretty sure that most folks have figured out that it is not the only day I work, though I do know that folks wonder what I do during the week. (Wondering what I do during the week does not equal thinking that I don’t work. Let’s give our people more credit than that.)
Sunday is the day that I lead worship, see the majority of my congregation and preach the sermon I have prepared (and sometimes the sermon that the Spirit gives me). I share the liturgy that I have provided for the gathered people to come together with one voice and praise God. I share Sacraments and song and space for silence.
And after worship is done at my second church, I go home and collapse. I am utterly spent by noon on Sunday. There is something about the way that the power of God moves through me and in spite of me that wrings every bit of energy from me. I know that part of it is that I am “ON” for over three hours; I use nearly all of my energy as I lead and serve.
In the mornings before I leave, my husband and I do a short liturgy of Morning Prayer from Common Prayer. He is the pastor of another church; he has his own congregation to lead and serve. Our time together before we leave to go lead our respective churches in worship guides us as we continue to grow together.
We commission each other after the benediction with the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads, and in that instant, we have both an intimate moment and an explicit act of grace. I come to my churches covered with the sign of the cross, reminded of the work to which God calls me.
Things can go wrong during worship, technical difficulties may happen, questions and concerns may be raised, but I have been marked with the sign of the cross and I have been called by God and I am able to continue to lead worship for God’s people.
And after worship, when I have collapsed on the couch exhausted and worn out, I know that I worshiped, and I helped others to worship as well. A nap is usually in the plans, as well as watching last night’s Saturday Night Live, or reading a book. Sometimes I have to gear myself back up to go out again, and I am able to do that, knowing that I will be able to sleep well that night.
Other days of the week are full of work, visiting and planning for the upcoming Sunday, but Sunday uses all of me.