July 9th was the 25th anniversary of my ordination. I’ll admit that it felt great to receive words of congratulation and appreciation from members of the four congregations I’ve served and from assorted friends and family. But it also felt weird – and not just because of the fact that it reminds me how old I am. It took me on a trip all the way back to the beginnings of what would become my life’s work.
People often ask when I knew I wanted to go into the ministry or if there was one specific moment of feeling “the call.” Those are difficult questions to answer because the process was so convoluted. There were bright and shining moments of clarity, but there were also dark days of struggle and despair. But I can’t wish that none of it had ever happened because it has all contributed to the person and pastor I am today.
Some of those bright/shining and struggle/despair moments came from the church. Like a parent, the church has the power to both love and affirm, but also to shame and abuse. I’ve experienced all of that. And I believe that it is important to remember the painful parts of the story because they obligate me to reach out today to those who have been hurt by the church and tell them that healing and maybe even reconciliation is possible.
I also believe that it’s important to remember the good stuff because it obligates me also to remind us all of the good that we can do through this imperfect institution.
There are days I think I should just kiss the church good-bye. When I hear about a colleague getting emotionally battered by her congregation. When I see a young colleague burning out in her first year of ministry. When I get frustrated with the business of running an institution.
And then there are the days when the church is what the church is supposed to be. When compassion trumps doctrine. When justice trumps policy. When gospel trumps law. Those are the days I live for. And why I’ve stayed.
25 years! Unbelievable. But what a joy to hear from a kid from my first congregation, now with children of his own, to learn from another young man that it was because of me that he stayed in the church and now is there with his wife and kids, to hear stories of faith from so many people I love and admire.
Has it been worth it? Oh, yeah, it has.
Will I still get frustrated with the church at times? No doubt.
Will I continue to work for reformation, healing and reconciliation? You betcha!