Welcome to the ordiversary party!! This month we are celebrating with our friends who were ordained in July, and with those who are being ordained this month. It’s a time to give thanks for good and faithful servants who bring such amazing gifts to the church, and to celebrate that we get to know them!
This month the party is being kicked off by Monica, a Presbyterian in Texas, who will be familiar to many from the preacher party and Facebook group! I asked her to tell us about her journey into ministry, what she remembers of her ordination service, what she has been surprising in a good way about ministry and what it’s been like to minister and mom at the same time. And, of course, what advice she’d give those just starting the journey this month!
I suppose my journey to ordination would be quite typical, were I a male. I grew up in the same congregation from age 4 to high school graduation. Sunday school, youth group, church suppers, mission trips, ski trips. My family were the ones who stayed and cleaned up and folded up tables and put away chairs. The minister of that congregation (who served there my entire life and then some) encouraged my development as a leader and as a minister. He encouraged me in various ways–overtly and covertly. By the time I graduated from high school, that congregation had already sent two women into seminary and ordained ministry. I realize now how unusual it was that I had female role models for ministry. I entered college with the intention of becoming a high school math teacher, but a stint of student teaching in a middle school where the students were hungry and traumatized led me to realize that God was calling me in a different way. I don’t think I’ve ever lost sight of those students and their needs, and I hope my ministry serves kids like them.
I went straight from college to seminary, where I met my husband in new student orientation (aside: he tells a sweet and charming story of passing the peace with me at our opening chapel service, an event which I do not recall. I remember noticing him immediately thereafter, when 6’2″ him tried to stand next to 5’3″ me in the front row of the class picture). I graduated at age 25 and was ordained the next summer at age 26, in the year 2000, which makes it easy to remember.
My ordination service took place at my home congregation. My installation service was a week later at the congregation that had called me as Associate Pastor. The minister that had raised me preached. I wore a turquoise dress. I remember the weight of the hands during the ordination prayer as I knelt. It was a gift to me to be surrounded by those who had nurtured me and taught me Sunday school and bought Girl Scout cookies from me for so many years. I also have fond memories of the reception, which included a table of chocolate treats with a sign: “Monica’s Chocolate Heaven.”
I was in ministry for 8 years before our first daughter was born, and adding her to my rotation of responsibilities was a challenge. It changed all my rhythms and routines (as much as ministry can have any). Especially when the girls were babies, congregations which I served (both as pastor and pulpit supply) were unfailingly supportive and creatively helpful. Our first daughter was a preemie, and the congregation gave me maternity leave both when she was born and when she was finally released from the NICU almost 3 months later. They later passed her around the adult Sunday school class and greeted me with “Um. You probably shouldn’t ask how many cookies she’s had.” Later on, pulpit supply congregations invited me to bring the younger daughter when she was an infant. She laid sweetly on the chancel and charmed them while I preached. Even so, it’s challenging. When I am with the kids, I feel the distraction of church responsibilities weighing me down, and vice versa. When I try to do the two simultaneously, it’s exhausting, distracting, and rarely successful in either arena (see photo of us at a recent Presbytery meeting). A part time call, an extremely supportive congregation, and a spouse with a flexible schedule make it work.
I learned all about a Reformed understanding of sacraments in seminary, and serving communion soon became one of my favorites acts of ministry. Something about it was powerful, yet my mind couldn’t grasp it entirely. I was accompanying a group on a mission visit in Central America. One of the group members was hesitant to go, because she suffered from PTSD after several tours of service during the Vietnam War. Tropical climates could trigger her PTSD, and she was quite afraid yet determined to go with us. And more than determined, she felt called to go by God. We arrived on a Sunday and participated in worship that evening with our host congregation. Unlike our customary sweet Hawaiian bread and Welch’s grape juice, they blessed and broke tortillas and poured grape Kool-Aid. But after worship, the exact same thing happened in that unfamiliar place as it did in our formal European sanctuary at home: after the benediction, the children raced to the table to share the leftover from the sacrament. (We’re Presbyterian; such a thing is completely allowable). I then looked over at this woman and saw a peaceful smile on her face. In the midst of her fear, sharing the sacrament of communion and letting the children teach her had brought her peace. The Spirit made real, re-created, the communion of saints across time and space in that moment. Seminary couldn’t have taught me that, and communion has been deeper and more meaningful ever since.
My primary advice (and just like my sermons, this is also directed at myself) is this contradictory bit: be ready for God to call you in unexpected directions. At seminary graduation, I thought I would follow an “upwardly mobile” career path from Associate Pastor to pastor of larger and larger churches. That has not at all been the case, and I would have been miserable had it come to pass. Relatedly, don’t fall for the seductive, culturally constructed idea that bigger is better, that success can be measured in any numerical way, or that faithfulness depends on attendance statistics. God is at work in all places, even and maybe especially in the least likely ones.
Let’s celebrate together—Happy July Ordiversaries!!
The Rev. Teri Peterson is a Church of Scotland minister in the west of Scotland. She’s been there just a few months, after over a decade in ministry in the PCUSA, having been ordained when RGBP was a new thing. She’s glad to know Sally-Lodge and other RevGals and BlogPals who have made this ministry life not just surviveable (though that too!), but a joy. And, being a 7 on the Enneagram, she’s super excited about monthly Ordiversary Parties! Teri blogs occasionally at Clever Title Here, and is the co-author of Who’s Got Time: Spirituality for a Busy Generation.
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