A love letter to my congregation


A sermon based on 1 Peter 2: 2-10 (Preached on the morning of my ordination)

Before I am ordained by you all today, I think you should know about few things about me.

First, I never wanted to be a pastor.  It was never something I even envisioned as a possibility.  I had no role models for this.

I never actually met a female pastor until High School when I met Kathy Weaver Wenger.  I remember being shocked by her role and by her two last names.  It was beyond my understanding that a woman would hold on to her own name and identity AND would break all the rules of the bible and become a pastor.

I had a chance to talk to Kathy a few years ago–I commented on how radical I thought it was at the time.  She shared with me the incredible difficulties she had working in the Lancaster Mennonite community as a female pastor.  I cannot even begin to imagine what she faced–it was because of the courageous women pastors like Kathy, that I can stand here today.

While she was the first female pastor I’d ever met, there was female postor in the town I grew up in.  At the Methodist church in Quinton, New Jersey.  In my family, we talked about this pastor we’d never met like she was the devil.  Well, maybe not quite the devil–there were the the really bad people, the lady pastors, then the devil.

I never wanted to be a pastor because it was never something that was an option.  But, I was always interested in the Bible.  I aspired to teach the Bible, or be a missionary, because those were appropriate roles for women.

Second, ordination is a bit about being set apart, about being singled out.  And I feel uncomfortable about that.  Because I don’t like to be singled out.  You may not know that about me, because I seem pretty pretty comfortable up here, and I don’t mind looking foolish in front of you from time to time.  But I’m really more comfortable in a group, than I am being singled out.  I’m much more of a choir singer, than a soloist.

So, I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and reading over this last year about what all this means for me to be ordained, to be singled out and called out.  And this is what I’ve come to understand:

It’s not just me that feels a little squeamish about ordination.  As a tradition, there is a strangeness to a setting apart of an individual that gives Mennonites some pause.  This tradition is about choosing to do this together–to follow Jesus, to journey in discipleship, etc..  Individualistic faith doesn’t resonate as much in this understanding of being a community of faith.

But, looking at the stories of ordination in the scripture this is what I understand about it– ordination is something that benefits the person being set apart, but it also benefits the entire church community.  Ordination is a blessing not just for me, but for all of us.  This is a covenant between all of you, me and God.  And covenants, while intensely personal, are also public.  We mark these moments with a celebration, just as we mark commitments like baptism, and marriage with a ritual and celebration.

In this covenant, I receive blessings for ministry, and I promise to serve the church to the best of my ability.  I promise to be faithful to the gospel, to serve the church and see to its well being.  And you promise to open yourself to grow in Christ, and to be guided by the Spirit.  And you promise to support my work as this congregation’s shepherd.

In our reading from I Peter, the author is writing to a struggling Christian community.  They are going through difficult times because they have a distinct way of life that is not appreciated in their wider community.

This book is a word of encouragement to a struggling community.  Peter begins by reminding the community why they gather.  They gather to be nourished spiritually.  They gather to grow and learn together.  And they gather to build a spiritual home on Jesus the cornerstone.

Peter tells them that in building a spiritual house, they are “a royal priesthood.”  In being this community of spiritual nourishment, of learning and growth, and of building the beloved community together, we are the royal priesthood.

Priests are typically understood as folks that mediate between humans and God.  And that works here.  We show the love of God in the way we treat each other.  We are the grace and mercy of God when we treat each other with love.

That is all of our responsibility.  And that is what we do here.

I feel honored to  have grown out of this community.  I was called of this community into seminary.  I was called by this congregation to be your pastor.  It was in this royal priesthood–this place of spiritual nourishment–that I realized who I have been called to be.  I have been called to be that female pastor that I used to despise.  I have been called–with both of my last names–to represent you in the wider Mennonite community.  I have been called to walk with you.

It is in this place that many of you have been formed into the people God has called you to be.  You’ve declared that here in your baptisms, or in joining yourself with this community in your spiritual journey, or in declaring your commitment to raise your child in faith, or in the vows you made here to your life partner.  Its here that you have made relationships that have carried you through journeys of joy and celebration, and times of mourning and loss.

Ordination is especially powerful today because this oldest Mennonite church in new world, the one that has often forged its own path, and understood Anabaptism particular to this urban context, is now forging its own path again.  I’m not the first to be ordained by this congregation–I’m the 3rd in my memory–but with this ordination, you have called me from within this priesthood, to be that person who will shepherd, walk alongside.  And with each ordination we do, it seems that we celebrate more joyfully, make more noise at the party, and more confidently express our call.

This is the place where I first came to be nourished spiritually.  This is where I continued to come to grow and learn about Jesus, through the scripture, through our experiences together, and through eating, laughing, crying and rejoicing with you.  This is the place where I learned about Jesus, and where I built a new foundation.

This being set apart later today is in the context of being called from within.  This is the royal priesthood, the holy people of God, calling one of their own to lead and serve among them.

I’m encouraged by this text from I Peter today.  Because, as we come here for spiritual nourishment, to grow and develop our faith together, and build this community, we have promises, from God:

See I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, an approved stone, chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

Today we stand on the promises of God.  We believe that God calls all of us in the royal priesthood.  And we build our spiritual homes on that promise.  That promise brings forth pastors that never imagined they could or should be pastors, it brings queer folks into baptism and church leadership, and ordination, empowers the quiet to speak God’s power, and leaders to collaborate and work together in making God’s reign known.

Today we are a royal priesthood, celebrating the work of God among us.  This ordination is a recognition of God at work, a celebration of a God who can bring us all to new understandings, who can bring us to see new ways of being in the world, a God that shows us hope, gives us courage, and brings us to new life.

Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God.  Once there was no mercy for us, but now we have found mercy.  AMEN.

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