Monday, September 15, 2014

A 40-Year Memory

I sat in church yesterday before the service started meditating on 40 years. I wondered what I would hear or experience that would fit for this anniversary of my ordination.

Bishop Ed Kortz (r) and District President Thor Harberg (l)
That previous Sunday, September 15, 1974, was a beautiful sunny day in Center Valley, PA. I had been serving the church there, Grace Moravian Church, as a student pastor for a year and was now to be the first full-time pastor at the church in a number of years. Bishop Ed Kortz was the ordaining bishop and Eastern District president, Thor Harberg led the service.

The church was packed. It was a little chapel-sized church that had been a community Sunday School prior to becoming a Moravian Church. With the back door open we managed to have over the 125 that we could seat. Family, church members, college friends, seminary colleagues, clinical co-interns and neighbors made it a day of celebration.

As some of you may remember, I posted back in May on the 50th anniversary of my baptism at age 15. In those 10 years in-between I discovered a great deal about myself and my world. I moved from the small town at the edge of the northern Pennsylvania wilderness to the southeastern PA extended metro area north of Philadelphia in the Lehigh Valley of Bethlehem, Allentown and Easton. I had graduated from college, spent two years working as a conscientious objector, got married, spent a month in Israel and another on a cross-cultural trip to the Navajo reservation with the seminary. Now, 10 years later, I was making my ordination vows as an ordained parish pastor.

I became politically very liberal and was at the early stages of a theological journey that continues to this day. With the trip to Israel in 1973 I began this whole pilgrimage that I now call "postModern". Wikipedia defines pilgrimage as
a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone's own beliefs.
I am not one who is ever satisfied with where my faith is. Life and events and the world continue to move on around me.I am not the same person I was two weeks ago, let alone 40 years ago. Being a parish pastor helped me in that pilgrimage by continually confronting me with the changes in others, the world we all live in, and myself. I had to work regularly, if not daily, at deciphering the meaning of the faith in that given day and age.

It began earlier than forty years ago today, of course, but September 15, 1974 is one of those major milestones that cannot be overestimated in my life.

As I knelt before Bishop Kortz I knew I was placing myself in a unique relationship to the church. Not to God, mind you. I believed strongly in the ministry of all God's people, the Priesthood of All Believers, but I was being called to a particular type of ministry within the work of the church. My understanding of that has grown, changed, evolved, devolved, morphed and all kinds of things over these past forty years. I am not yet at a place where I am ready to sort all that out. I'm having enough trouble, and fun, doing that with the roots and flow of my life in my roots in the land and water of northern Pennsylvania. When I get done with that, this will probably be my next phase.

Then, 10 years ago I heard- and finally responded to- God's call into ministry beyond the church and its understandings of call and ministry. My second career has led me into even more opportunities that I would never have believed possible in 1974. Some of it strengthened what I thought I knew then; other times it forced me into challenging myself about faith and life and spirituality.

So, going back to yesterday morning in church, what did I discover, hear, or learn? Very simply there were two things. First was a reaffirming of my personal place within the Christian tradition. The Liturgy, the music, the movement of the Spirit within the service all continue to speak to me in ever deeper ways. Sometimes I have to really pull myself back to these basics. Sometimes it happens intuitively. But it does happen if I am willing to let go of my ego and let my God and Savior guide.

This came through most clearly when the pastor made a simple quote from Paul. Sunday was Holy Cross Sunday and at one point all he said was, with Paul,
We preach Christ and him crucified.
I knew I meant it differently that the fundamentalist or evangelical preachers meant it. None of us has the final meaning of such a statement. But I could bow in gratitude and praise to humbly affirm that to the best of my ability I have done that throughout these forty years. For many of those years I used words; now I use words only when absolutely necessary.

Which is the second thing I felt Sunday morning. I reflected on the Christian preaching and the work of the church which was my center of life for most of the past forty years. Even when I left the parish ministry I was still connected. I have preached, I have been a member of churches, my wife continued in her ministry until she retired a couple years ago. The church and its life continues to feed, frustrate and empower me.

But I sat there and knew that my move to a different ministry, and understanding of the place of "not-ordained" ministry was correct. Fifty years ago, following my baptism, I resisted going into "The Ministry." I said that those who are not "ordained" could have a greater impact on their world. Today I would rephrase it in less "either/or" terms, but I know that what I did was respond to God's call to ministry in non-traditional terms. To respond to God to do "ministry" is not a space, location, or theologically-limited vocation. It is the Christian vocation.

So, today I celebrate the ordination that was such a major movement in my journey. I still have a "higher church" understanding of ordination, but higher has nothing to do with importance. It is all for the glory of God. Which maybe the third thing I got from worship yesterday. the Epistle lesson was from Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is wondrous, and deeply moving, no matter how you interpret it within our faith:
Philippians 2...
...have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

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