Well, that ordination was amazing. As I shook people’s hands at the end of my ordination, the most consistent comment I heard from people (especially people I had never met) was, “That was a deeply moving [inspiring, touching] service. Thank you!” And it was for me, too, for at least three reasons that I can think of.
The no-brainer reason is that the Holy Spirit was thick in the air, as one would hope at any church gathering but especially at an ordination in which people chant “Come, Holy Spirit” for quite a long time.
The other reason is that my Dean of Anglican Studies from Berkeley Divinity School, the Rev. Greta Getlein, delivered a powerful sermon about love based on the special Gospel passage I had requested: John 21: 15-19. It’s a thrilling experience to ask someone to preach based on a passage that is personally very meaningful and then see what comes up for them, and Greta delivered a powerful meditation on love and service that mentioned some of our shared experiences on our May, 2012 trip to El Salvador. I’d like to think that her sermon was one of the reasons people were deeply moved.
The third reason for me was that I saw so many people from various branches of my life: my siblings and their families, family friends, former coworkers from Silicon Valley and American River College in Sacramento, friends from four different churches, and clergy that I know. It was deeply moving for me to see them all in one place.
But then there was this odd experience of having people I did not know telling me how moved they were by the service.
I had more insight into this the next morning, when the interim rector at my sponsoring parish, the Rev. Susan Plucker, preached on the parable of the mustard seed. I cannot do the sermon justice with a brief synopsis, but the point was that from the small mustard seeds of faith and small acts, the huge church of Christendom has grown. We are the leaves that grow, leading to other shoots and branches and leaves. And I realized that I was deeply moved by the evidence of this at the ordination: the various connections with people from many different branches of my life. I was also deeply moved when I was surrounded at the reception by members of my sponsoring church, who wanted to watch me open the gift from them: a beautiful (and indispensable) home Communion kit. The mutual joy was palpable.
This sense of roots and shoots hit home in an entirely different way in my first diaconal act: coordinating, along with my amazing daughter, a “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” Vacation Bible School throughout the mid-Hudson region of New York. We travel from small church to small church each week, helping the local church team to put on Vacation Bible School for children in the community. The hope is to attract children and families with little religious background, but mostly the churches have been attracting current children members of their own congregation. The hope is to attract twenty or so children, but mostly they have been attracting 7 to 10 children. The hope is to have 6 or more volunteers on site, but sometimes we’ve fallen short there as well.
This could feel like small potatoes: all this effort, planning, driving of long distances, etc., for seven kids? All those books I read, papers I wrote, chaplain calls I made, chapel services I attended, to prepare me to minister to seven kids and three volunteers?
But I kept reflecting upon these two sermons I heard on my ordination weekend: “Do you love me? Do you love me?” I reflected upon the idea of a grand, shady tree growing from a very small seed. And I felt confident that our small team of dedicated volunteers–volunteers who love children and are willing to act like silly pirates for seven wriggling young disciples–are planting very small seeds that will grow. Maybe these churches will have a bigger Vacation Bible School next summer. Or maybe I will be inspired at my next church to start a VBS program with excited volunteers.
Or maybe I’ll be doing something entirely different, which is usually how things go with me and God. Just when I think I have it figured out, I’m headed in another direction. But I do know one thing. As I have gazed with pride and love at my daughter’s amazing, Spirit-filled discipleship as my VBS co-coordinator, I know a very powerful seed has already been planted by my taking her to church and youth group and Sunday school. One cannot stop love and inspiration this strong, as Jesus and Peter knew very well. It must grow.