Many of you – I hope — know the game show “Jeopardy!” At least most folks know how to hum the theme music. In this Merv Griffin originated quiz show, contestants are presented with general knowledge clues in the form of answers and then phrase their responses in the form of questions.
So here’s a couple practice rounds: Returning Church and Ministry Contestant for eleven years and today’s Ordinand. Who is Maureen Steer? Composed of many members. What is the body of Christ?”
Yesterday, Sunday, March 11, I preached for the ordination of the remarkable Maureen E. Steer at First Church Congregational, Rochester, New Hampshire. Maureen has been my “advisee” for the Carroll-Strafford Association of the New Hampshire Conference, UCC, for eleven years. Maureen is called as Spiritual Care Counselor at Concord Regional VNA Hospice and as Chaplain of the Town of Milton Police and Fire Departments, to which she brings the gifts of her education at Bangor Seminary, considerable Clinical Pastoral Education and a career as a former State Police officer.
This coming Thursday, March 15, I will celebrate my thirty-seventh anniversary of ordination, well over half a lifetime ago. In a wide range of ministry settings I have witnessed and experienced a certain amount of jeopardy.
I played Jeopardy with the ordination crowd yesterday, partially to refresh everyone on the widely divergent scriptures Maureen had chosen, partially to help them laugh, but mostly to remind folks that although individually none of us may have all the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophecy, healing, tongues to be successful contestants, but it is together that we face Jeopardy. It’s how we manifest the Holy Spirit, create the Body of Christ, demonstrate the baptism of all believers. The different gifts named in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians are our only chance.
Beyond that, it seems to me that ordained ministry particularly is a call to questions. Not answers. We respond to the answers people already have with questions that will help to unlock them. All the seminary education, units of CPE, rich life experience that we bring to ordination doesn’t result in the ability to announce the right answers to any life dilemma, but asking hearts to open, inquiring for hope within, inviting people to tell their own truth, and then find their own questions.
It is what Maureen will do giving a death notification to a family after a loss for the Police or Fire Departments, or caring for the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those service professionals, who may be disheartened by a school in lockdown, the overdose of someone they know, a life-taking blaze, or journeying alongside an individual, a family member, a friend in the season of dying. She will name their answers with her questions.
And the Political.
Often I forget to “ask,” as, eager with the biblical story, many did yesterday. When I blurt out the answer I am quite sure is correct and should be obvious to everyone, I’m cautioned by the fact that even the most colloquial of translations of the 23rd psalm do not include the line “Thy two-by-four and thy sledgehammer, they comfort me.” In fact, it seems to me, reflecting back, that ordained people are called to gently refuse the making of statements that create insiders and outsiders for the grace of God. We are caretakers in the midst of the jeopardy that faces so many.
There are many statements that are pushing up, bubbling over, burning my heart – about care for God’s creation, about justice and welcome for immigrants who have come to this country with their gifts and their hopes, about our complicity in gun tragedies. The remarkable Emma Gonzalez, senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, addressed a gun control rally with courage and forthrightness and her rally cry was, “We call BS.” It is probably not a line I will be preaching anytime soon. In fact the word “preaching” has gotten a bad reputation just because it is sometimes too full of self-righteous answers.
Curiously, I have a great many occasions to respond to statements I hear often and all around me with — “What is BS?”
Maren C. Tirabassi is a UCC pastor and writer, also quilter, swimmer, hiker, lover of beagles, attender of science fiction and fantasy conventions. Most recent book with Maren Mankin and seventy-seven collaborators is A Child Laughs: Prayers for Justice and Hope and blogs at http://firstname.lastname@example.org/