I was ordained to the transitional diaconate on April 12, 1986 in my sponsoring congregation, The Cathedral of St. Luke, Portland, Maine.
That's the reredos above the main altar at the Cathedral pictured above, featuring "Our Lady of Portland" there in the middle. Here's a description of it from the Cathedral web page:
Central in the Reredos itself stands the Virgin Mary with the Child in her arms. She is known as Our Lady of Portland and has a unique quality in that she was carved with the Native American communities in mind. Her dress and hair are modeled after typical native fashion and the Baby Jesus is wrapped as a papoose. The figures of the Blessed Mother and Child are almost life-size. Below on either side, in low relief, are kneeling figures representing Saint Luke, who in his Gospel tells the human story of the birth, and Saint John, who gives the divine meaning of the event. A panel between these two has the seals of the four evangelists, suggesting the scriptural basis of the whole work.I spent many an hour contemplating the stunningly beautiful images in that reredos.
You may recognize it as LaFarge's "American Madonna".
I love how Mary hovers protectively over Jesus, her arms outstretched, pre-figuring the posture her son would take on the cross.
However, Mary can neither prevent nor protect him from accepting the risks of his own vocation.
She can only hover protectively as He takes his first steps and begins to rise to the full stature of his life.
It's a posture many parents know and understand.
It's a posture those who are baptized with Him and called into the priesthood of all believers understand about their own ministry in the church.
Mary has been a model and an inspiration for my ministry of ordained leadership in the church - being a God bearer and a Christ representative, having the courage to love the people of God enough to allow them to take the risks of their own vocations.
It's a model that has served me well, lo these twenty five years of ordained service in the church.
My Silver Anniversary in the Church. Or, as Ms. Conroy would say, I have just begun my 26th year of ordained ministry.
But, who's counting?
I suppose landmarks like that present a time for reminiscence and nostalgia - a time for looking back and remembering and celebrating.
I suppose. I'm just not so inclined.
Well, I did raise a glass of wine after supper in the refectory in celebration of all the women and men who made my ordination possible.
I stand on the shoulders of some pretty amazing Giants of Justice in the church. I am overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude for the road they paved for me.
Despite a pleasant little sojourn to the Cathedral website, I find that I am not quite comfortable sitting around bathing in the warmth of nostalgia. I am too excited about the future to remain for too long a time on Memory Lane.
This is an amazing time to be a Christian who is an Episcopalian. Haven't you noticed?
The Anglican Covenant? Fuggedehboutit! Oh, it may pass a majority of Provinces in the Anglican Communion, but, in the end, it really won't make no nevermind. When the history of this time gets written, I am convinced the Anglican Covenant will be relegated to a sad footnote.
Schism? Schmism! As my grandmother used to say, "Dead wood always splinters." We're already seeing that in the alphabet soup of schismatics who think they've got it exactly right and have special ownership rights to Jesus.
Declining membership? Yup. We've done it to ourselves. And, maybe it's not such a bad thing. This is a perfect time to get our priorities in order.
Mission. Evangelism. Pastoral Care. Education. Good liturgy, done well. Relevant sermons that confront and challenge and question and inspire.
Oh, and did I mention mission?
I will share one memory in service of mission.
Years and years ago - too many now to count - I heard a prison chaplain - a woman who was an Episcopal Priest - whose particular assignment was death row in a state prison. She said that, when she hears confession from an inmate, there are three consistent regrets expressed in the form of wishes:
I wish I had had a family.
I wish I had never picked up drugs.
I wish I had learned to read.
I've never heard a clearer vocational call to the church to strengthen families who are reeling from the grinding realities of poverty, work to provide early intervention and treatment of drug addiction and advocate for better school systems and literacy programs.
If the church did those three things - just those three things - we would not only reduce crime and decrease the prison population, but our churches would be filled to overflowing.
There's an old saying that a church that lives for itself dies by itself.
That has never been more true.
Here at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, I am surrounded by young, enthusiastic men and women who understand that. They are not sitting around waiting for the institutional church to do mission. They are equipping themselves, while they are here, with the skills and knowledge to do the work of the gospel beyond the walls of the church.
They still hover protectively over the institutional church, but their arms are open and ready to embrace Her new incarnation outside and beyond the walls of the church.
It makes me very excited about the future.
More importantly, I think it makes Jesus smile so broadly the whole round earth just shimmers and shines with possibility and hope.
I am deeply grateful for the last 25 years, but I am profoundly hopeful for the next 25 years of ministry.
It's a GREAT time to be a Christian.
So, you'll forgive me if I don't sit around thinking of the past. I've got my sleeves rolled up, my shoes laced, and my work gloves on.
As that old gospel song goes, "Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now."
Well, nothing except what I'll need to continue working for Jesus for at least the next 25 years.