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I still have good days and bad days.  (I suspect I always will.)  The difference between good and bad and better and worse is often one of degrees.  Today my head hurts slightly.  Today I will always know where the excedrin bottle is.  Today I will barely leave the couch.  Today I will only get out of bed.  And similar scales.  Most of my days, thankfully, land on the better and good end of the scale.  I know what it’s like when days tend to land on the other end of the scale.  When the “good” days are the days when you only have to take two naps, one pain pill, can think.   And I know that there are days in the middle days where I don’t want to or don’t have time to or am just sick of talking about being sick and so need to pass as healthy,  as having a good day.  I need to act healthy.  Despite the pain in my head, or my back, or my leg, or whatever.

There’s another time I do this.  I do this after surgery as I become healthy.  It’s actually an important skill then.  Because if I don’t start acting healthy, despite wanting to sit on the couch and sleep, despite better knowing how to be sick, I’ll never really believe that I am healthy.  I’ll never discover that I can make it down the street or up the stairs or do whatever or go where ever.

In the church I think we get caught thinking we are still sick.  Or to put in the terms we use, still dysfunctional, still caught in a prior generation’s way of thinking, still caught up in the way we’ve always done things.  We forget that the world has moved and that we, sometimes, oftentimes, haven’t.  And as this reality catches up with us, we want to take things slow.  To stay on the couch and have committee meetings, to read books, to commission studies, when what we need to do, sometimes, oftentimes, is try getting up and moving across the room.

But sometimes we need to act healthy.  Today.  Even when it seems impossible to believe that it could be true.  Even when our heads hurt or our muscles ache and the people coming to church aren’t the people we thought would come or aren’t coming at all.  Because sometimes when we act healthy we discover that we are better off than we thought we were.  Today.

Both of my ordination certificates declare that I have been “ordained as a [deacon/priest] in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”  It’s a line I cherish.  It links me (even if only in a vague and can’t-really-be-proved historically way) with everyone else who has ever done my job in any way, place, or time.  It’s profound.  And it’s important for how my Church understands itself and how I understand myself.

And yet sometimes I think it should have come with an * and some fine print at the bottom of the page.  I was ordained at 25.  I’m still the youngest clergy person in my diocese.  There is no sign that this will change in the near to middling future.  Most of my colleagues are my parents’ age.  Which doesn’t disturb me.  Until.

Until Gen Y or Millennials come up and every one looks at me.  (Or worse, no one looks at me because every one has forgotten that I’m actually there.)  Because clearly, I know everything about this generation that I barely belong to.*  Because even after you ignore all of the problems of dating a generation or a movement (as my history professors would say, “people don’t wake up one morning knowing they are a part of the next movement/era/generation”), I got ordained at 25.  I can intelligently discuss the hypostatic union, eschatology vs apocalypse, and the theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  And would often rather have those conversations or ones like them than talk about most TV shows, computer games, popular music, etc.

I may not actually represent my generation all that well.  Just because I’m in Church doesn’t mean the rest of them will find their way into the Church, and certainly doesn’t mean they’ll stay if they do.

I know things about my generation, this Millennial group, in part because I have worked with them for years, in part because I am like them, but also because I read everything I can get my hands on about them.  Then again, I also read about Gen X, Baby Boomers, the Greatest Generation, and everyone else, because my job means I have to figure all of them out.  They are all (or should all) be sitting in the pews.  Because we are all (or should all) be linked.

*Most dates that I see attached to Gen Y or Millennials start either right around the year I was born or right after.  Either way, I’m probably more accurately part of the cusp between Gen X and the Millennials, especially when I compare myself to my younger siblings.

There are parts of my job that are exhausting and frustrating and that occasionally drive me crazy. And I love my job. Sometimes in the exact same moment. It can be hard to explain to people who exhausting/frustrating/crazy moments exist. It’s true. I think, sometimes because of what people say, sometimes because of what is in their eyes, that they get a better impression of me than they probably should. I experience the exhausting and the frustrating and the crazy-making. And then I tell myself I can’t quit and remind myself about why I love my job. And then I pray. That one always works.

I use my hands and my voice
to hold wine and bread and tell a story
but the story isn’t mine, and shortly,
neither is the wine or bread
I use my voice, it’s tone and strength,
my ability and view, to breathe life
through words I wrote, and speak
a Gospel new again, old as it may be
and not despite, but because of all the me present
it is not about me at all, but God,
Who wrote and spoke and breathed into me
This is what ministry is.

At the end of the day,
when I am tired and weary,
with all the little holes worn through myself
from the miles of listening,
I sit down and speak back the stories I have heard
to the One who listened with me
and remember that I was not alone
and neither are those who spoke.
As I work my way back through the worries I carry
it is as though I work thorns out and
let Divine hands soothe,
and carry the thorns away.
This is what ministry is.

It is knowing that the work I do
is never done alone
is never done for me
is never about me
is always important
but best of all
it is knowing that the work I do
matters to me
matters to people
matters to God.
This is what ministry is.

written 4-16-10

I meant with my canonically required mentor today.  I like my mentor, which mostly works out well me, as I’d have a mentor anyways.  She asked me if seminary had taught me everything I needed to know.

It’s a tough question to answer.  The answer is always yes and no.

Yes.  Seminary taught me all that it could teach me.  There are only so many answers that can printed on a page or communicated in an exercise.  I worked hard in seminary.  (Which almost none of you know, because this blog didn’t exist in this format back then.)  I sought out practical and class based experiences that I thought would serve me well in practical ministry.  And mostly, I think I was right.  I don’t know, ask me again in another twenty years.

No.  Seminary can’t teach you everything.  The Church is real people and that means real messiness.  Seminary isn’t where I learned how to deal with that.  I learned how to deal with that in the Church, when I looked across the aisle at someone I’d spent the weekend vehemently disagreeing with and realized we both had to go to Communion.  I was young and I figured it out.  So facing it now isn’t that shocking.

I already knew.  The Church is messy.  God loves us.  My job is to communicate the good news and deal with the rest.  I learned how to do that before seminary, but seminary helped.

So did seminary teach me what I needed to know?

I learned good and important things in seminary.  Some of them were on the required course list and some weren’t.  I learned some things before seminary and I’ve learned many things since.  I plan to keep learning.

Yes and no.

During an Ordination in the Episcopal Church there is a part called the examination which lays out what type of ministry you are being ordained to and asks some questions.  The examination is, of course, different for Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.  And each of those examinations has one line that I think particularly sums up the heart of that order of ministries work.  In the priestly examination it is this line:

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s  people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come. –BCP page 531

When I’m asked what I am called to do, I often paraphrase the line something like this:  I am called to equip others for their ministry.

This means that my job is simple.   My job is to make sure that those around me have the things (skills, resources, knowledge of resources, and the stuff) to do the work God is calling them to do.  My job is to be the person who says, “Wow, what important work you are doing.”  To be the person who says, “Pause, rest, refresh yourself so you can keep on going.”  To say, “Have you ever thought about [new ministry].”

And my job is incredibly difficult.  Because the Church has spent too much time telling people that you have to be ordained to do this.  That if you have ecclesiastical permission to wear a collar, you somehow have the right interpretation of Scripture.  That unless you have had a person in a purple shirt lay hands on your head you can’t be a minister.

I’ll sometimes talk about The List.  It’s my list of things that I want to change.  It’s pretty long, but I have a long career in the Church in front of me.  I should be able to get three or four things on it accomplished.  But if I only ever managed to convince a handful of people, lay people, that their voice and ministry is unique and important to God and the Church, and that they should tell other people that this is true, I will be happy.

I am surrounded, have always been surrounded by talented, committed, faithful laity.  I would not be who I am without them.  Specifically, I would not be ordained without them.  Spending a lifetime telling, encouraging, challenging the faithful to be who God is calling them to be will be a privilege.

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