Confirmed and Commissioned

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.

My Confirmation Celebration with Beth and Julie in 1995
My Confirmation Celebration with Beth and Julie in 1995

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!

My Confirmation Dress and Commissioning Cross
My Confirmation Dress and Commissioning Cross
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The Kitchen

When I was growing up, the energy in our home revolved around our kitchen. It is where meals were prepared, math homework was agonized over, art projects took form, animals were dissected for biology class, and where we slept when we spent a night on the mayflower. Evening dinner conversations were intended to include everyone in the family, and my sister and I did our part to tell our own stories of the day.

The kitchen is where I learned from my mother how to cook, to both follow a recipe with exact precision and know when to use it as a mere suggestion. I learned about spices and marinades and the perfect way to cook pasta and rice and eggs. I learned about making a colorful plate before it became a fashionable thing to do. I learned about quick tips and what was worth spending time over. I learned how to make a perfect dirty roux for gumbo.

Our kitchen was not always the same, just as not every house was the same. But even when the kitchen was small, our family made it a space where we could fit and make it work. Our lives revolved around the kitchen. We laughed and cried around the kitchen table, even when the table itself wasn’t a constant. Our constant was each other. We were bound together by more than where we were, but by who we were. My family formed our identity by coming together at our table in our kitchen, where we created our memories.

A Whisper of Spring

For Christmas, my parents gave me a jar filled with over six hundred small slips of paper written with conversation and writing prompts. This is the one of my responses:

It has been wonderful outside these last couple of days. The sun was shining, the breeze was whistling softly through the trees, and the birds lilted with freedom and joy. Hard to believe that snow was still on the ground, and that the entire state ground to a halt last week because of the snowstorm that blustered through. I wanted it to be spring so badly. I wanted the lovely weather in the seventies to be what we get to keep.

Unfortunately it is still the middle of February and so this was merely a brief respite from the chilling cold and fierce wind. It was warm outside, but there haven’t been any buds peeking out of the branches on the tree out my window. It was sunny, but the stand of brave daffodils in the backyard have yet to reveal their green stems. The rest of the world knew it was still winter, even while we hoped it was spring. Winter will continue. We have many more thunderstorms to brave, many more confusing temperature fluctuations to navigate, many more displays of a world at change before we have the blessing of spring.

Not that spring is the end all be all of the universe, but I would welcome a reprieve from hats, coats, and gloves weather. I’d gladly trade a rain jacket for a winter coat. I’d rather have a world covered in messy yellow pollen rather than the beautiful white snow, because I can still drive in pollen. I don’t worry about my power going out when there is pollen on the ground. Unless the terrifying thunderstorms wreak havoc on the power lines. Even then, I don’t have to worry about how I will heat my house.

I look forward to the gently budding trees that erupt into green without warning. I look forward to the sun rising earlier in concert with the birds that return from their winter hideaways. I look forward to the bourgeoning flowers in a riot of colors. I look forward to the pollen that cloaks everything, because I know that it is the trees seeking new life.

Spring offers a reprieve to the cold that creeps into my bones and makes me aware of each individual joint of my body. Spring offers a growing day, longer time in the light, as we return from the darkness of winter. Spring offers a new opportunity to see the world remake itself anew, replaying the action of creation and the first time that a flower ever bloomed, a bird ever whistled, and a stream ever sang.

Spring is waiting for us.

A Confession for Veterans Day

God of Peace, Our news is filled of wars and rumors of wars, our families and friends are called away, veterans return with experiences that have aged them beyond their years. Forgive us when we participate in what tears people apart rather than draws them together. You call us to love one another, you offer us hope of freedom and a life of joy. Build peace among us, that we may continue to build your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Bumpkin

I began this post while visiting my sister over the weekend in Atlanta. I love my sister, and I’m going to miss her dreadfully when she moves to Japan in a couple of weeks.

I’m probably annoying my sister. It’s not intentional, and its not really that big a deal, but I’m walking around Atlanta with wide eyes. I haven’t been here in a while, and so everything seems new. There are shiny glints that catch my eye at every corner. The elevator had ten times as many buttons as I’m used to seeing. Things are tall. There are plenty more people to look at. It is all very interesting.
I have had a wide range of experiences. I have lived in a number of different places. I consider myself more urban than rural. But here in this metropolitan city, I’m not so sure I’ve claimed the right label.
I like where I live a little too much. I like that I can’t hear the neighbors or their dogs, for the most part, though I wouldn’t mind not being able to hear them practice shooting… I like the smell of green and soil when I take a walk. I like watching the sun rise and set over fields. I like the extra produce from the generous bounty of neighbors. I like the sound of crickets and cicadas in the evening. I like that I can see the stars.
But I’d like some of these urban things, too. Going many places without getting in my car. Amazing options available all close and accessible. The amazing diversity of people meshed in together.
That, I think, is what I wish I had more of. I wish that my area was more diverse. We’re pretty homogenous. We have people with different levels of education. We have folks with different economic strengths or histories. We have folks who work with their hands and tools. But the community I interact with is more alike than different.
Part of life in a rural area is that folks have been living in the same place for generations. It is part of the strength of the place. Families are extended out and know the history of the land. Generations live together and can celebrate the growing and care for those growing old. It seems that everyone is related. There is an incredible strength that underlies the culture.
But I would like a easier way to get good coffee. I want to be able to dress cute, sleek and gorgeous. I like that a commute means walking, not stuck in a car all the time. I like that by the mid morning I have gotten half of the steps I need to stay healthy.
There is a bit of country bumpkin in me, I know. I want to start a conversation with those around me, and I want to learn why they are here, what they do, and how their history has brought them to this time and place.
I asked my seat partner on the bus on the way down some of those questions. I learned about her career, her travels, her past. I caught a glimpse into her life, and into her thoughts on current events. She was kind, and caring for her godchildren, who were sitting ahead of us. She apologized every time she grazed my arm or side when we happened to touch.
It was a very different experience of mass transit than I have had in the past. I chose to sit in a seat next to someone, but nearly half of the seats were empty on the bus. The air conditioning was too much, even though I had prepared for it. There was so much space. Open space. We were given directions to not be obtrusive. And my luggage wasn’t in my lap or under my feet, but in the bin prepared for it.
When I lived in Africa, I took mass transit there as well. The busses available there are called matatus. They are generally fifteen passenger Nissan or Toyota vans. There are also larger busses, but the matatus are ubiquitous. When you pay a fare on a matatu, you relinquish your right to your personal space. It is not longer your own, but communal. Luggage goes with you in your seat, so you learn to pack light. There is no climate controlled air, unless you include the windows. Seat-belts are required under the law, but in truth they are either nonexistent or broken, and definitely filthy.
There are a few similarities. Everyone has a phone. Most of us had a meal or food to eat on the ride. And the majority of the people on the bus were black.
I took the bus because it was convenient. Some took the bus because they were meeting friends. The bus can be much more reliable than a car with issues, so it may be safer. I am glad I got a nap.
But what does it say about our nation that the majority of people in mass transit are minorities? It’s it cultural? Has the economic cheapness of mass transit been discerned and exchanged for the liberty of being in your own vehicle? I paid ten bucks to get from Charlotte to Atlanta. I had to plan ahead, and get a ride there, but it was practically painless. I wish I had taken it down to visit my sister earlier.
Then maybe Atlanta wouldn’t cause me to have such wide eyes. But I wish I could see more and learn more while I was here. The bumpkin in me is still curious.