Today, is the thirtieth anniversary as an elder in the United Methodist Church. On May 31, 1988, I waddled up the stairs in Sam’s Chapel at Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina, Kansas. Waddled, literally, I was seven months pregnant with my son Joshua.
The elders that accompanied me up those stairs (which had the wobbliest hand rail) were Portteus Latimer (who was in her 80’s and one of the early, early women who pioneered in the Methodist Church) and Elsie Crickard who also pregnant and who would give birth to her daughter the next day.
My mother and family arrived a bit late and had to sit in the balcony. She shared me that as my name was called and I began to climb those stairs to the stage someone whispered dramatically, “She’s pregnant!” and then as Elise began climbing the stairs, “oh my God there are two of them!” I have smiled over that memory more than once.
I began preaching in 1982 as a full time licensed local pastor, went to seminary and while in seminary was ordained a deacon in 1985. My district committee on ordained ministry had to come to my home for my interview to be approved to go the conference committee because I had given birth to my daughter, Kristin, the week before. The stained glass window I use in my blog from First United Methodist Church helps me remember that first ordination as it was held there.
I was so young and excited and awed and blessed to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I had such hopes for the future. I knew that the world was changing and the church was becoming more inclusive and more and more women were entering seminary and being ordained. I believed the time was coming when we would fully embrace the gifts our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters would bring to the community of faith. Even as I attended the 1988 General Conference in Saint Louis and saw the long road ahead, I believed that the winds of the Spirit were moving.
Since that day, I have worn this stole and the gold dove with pride. The red stole was put on me on that night thirty years ago. The gold dove was a gift from my family with the date engraved on the back. I wear it each year on this day and during annual conference. If I participate in ordination, I wear this particular stole. I have other red ones, but this one connects me to each ordination class and my own.
Fast forward thirty years. I am not so young, but still excited and awed and blessed to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church. I have been honored and privileged to baptize dozens of babies and youth and adults, confirm many into life of faith, perform dozens if not hundreds of weddings and funerals. I have been blessed to be invited into the most intimate moments of peoples lives and be the incarnational presence of God. Women are in leadership as bishops, district superintendents, conference leaders, general secretaries and senior pastors of large churches. There are many young women entering the ministry and they continue to embrace the call.
I am a bit more realistic as to how quickly the world changes, however. In fact I grieve that some things have not changed at all in thirty years. We still exclude our called gay and lesbian friends as pastors. The United States and many other countries in the world recognizes marriage between same gender couples, but as pastors we are denied the honor of presiding at such services. It saddens me to the core.
Still, here am I. I have written several blogs about not going away, not being willing to stop working for the changes in the church I love. The United Methodist Church has been good to me, I have served churches as small as 8, to the large church I serve now. I have loved and delighted in being a pastor and sharing the good news of God’s love with others. I am deeply grateful to have been entrusted with the care of the congregations I have served since 1982.
As I wear my dove today, I remember those hands on my head and on my shoulders. I remember the excitement and fear, the energy and love and faith I had that God would use me to build the kingdom, the reign that Jesus had promised. I still believe. Sometimes a little weary and worn, sometimes a little bit angry and anxious, but determined and trusting that God is not done with me or with the United Methodist Church I love.
Here am I, Lord, send me.