That night I stood on the chancel steps of the church where my family and I had worship for ten years. The same steps I stood on when the Bishop confirmed me into the Episcopal Church in the fall of 1990. The same church where my son was baptized. The same church where, after sixteen years away from formal Christian worship and faith, I found my way home. A church filled with memories, some of which I reflected upon when I preached there on Oct. 31, 2010.
Like this year it was cold and snowy. The church was decorated in all the grandeur of Christmas celebrations. I wore a burgundy skirt and pink clergy blouse - the color of deaconate ministry and of the Holy Spirit is red.
In the Episcopal Church one of the markers of ordination is the collar. The white band deacons, priests, and bishops, wear around our necks to identify us as ordained. Recently my bishop wrote a letter to all the clergy instructing us to always wear appropriate clergy attire (ie collar) whenever we attend formal church events - to wear the mark of our ministry in public as a witness to the world.
The collar is held in place by collar stays - like cuff-links but intended for neck wear(see link for "collar," above). I had a difficult time figuring out which way to put the collar stay in - it has a flat head and a clasp or a pin like head. One goes through the hole in the shirt and through the hole in the collar, the other end rests against the neck. I remember thinking that the collar stay felt tight and pushed against my throat. The next morning I had a small bruise from the pressure of that stay. A bruise that is, in some ways symbolic of ministry - one does not go through ordained life without a few bruises. But also because I put the stay on backwards a reminder every time I put the collar on that I am imperfect and will make mistakes.
The service that night opened with this declaration of ministry, said by the Bishop to me (and all those being ordained to deaconal ministry, whether vocational or transitional):
As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God's Word and Sacraments, and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.
It is understood that even as one may go on to be ordained as a priest or consecrated a Bishop one carries within this first call to diaconal ministry. We are always deacons, called to serve.
Later, after the scripture and sermon, the Bishop calls upon the Holy Spirit, and ordains the person. After that sacred moment of laying on of hands the Bishop offers this prayer:
Make her, O Lord, modest and humble, strong and constant, to observe the discipline of Christ. Let her life and teaching so reflect your commandments, that through her many may come to know you and love you. As your Son came not to be served but to serve, may this deacon share in Christ's service, and come to the unending glory of him who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.
Before ordination I worked in several "careers" - including being a stay-at-home mom. Each line of work I've done has enriched my life and taught me much about leadership, life, and people. But in the eleven years of ordained ministry I have experienced a profound sense of what it means to be "called." Some people are called to ministry and work that does not include ordination - profound in its own way. But for me it is clear that I am called to ordained ministry, to wear this funny looking collar, to have a few bruises now and then, to be informed and formed by Holy Scripture, to teach the way of faith, to break open the word and preach, to Preside at the Eucharist, to pronounce God's blessing, consecrate bread and wine, to offer absolution to the broken and remorseful, and to be a sign of God's love - the hands and heart of Christ in the world.