Happy New Year, friends!

What better way to kick off the year than by celebrating the amazingness of our RevGal friends and their great ministries? This month I am SO excited for you all to join me in celebrating longtime RevGal ClayOla’s ordination to the diaconate, as a way to kick off the party!

Without further ado….

1. Tell us something about your journey into ministry

Have you ever had a really big dog sit on your lap when it knows it’s not supposed to? First it sits by you, barely touching your leg. Then it leans on you. Then there’s one buttock on your lap, while the dog looks studiously the other way. Next thing you know, you have a lap full of really big dog, with lots of slobber and fur and happy.

Being called was like that for me. God just kept leaning on me. It didn’t happen in a sudden flash of light and changed reality. I have friends who can tell me the moment they knew they were meant to be ordained. For me, that wasn’t so. God just progressively leaned on me with the idea, a heavier and heavier weight, until I found myself engulfed by it.

I was in my early 20’s the first time I explored the possibility, before all that “leaning”. Newly returned to the church, and in a graduate program in social work, I sensed God wanting me to move forward in a new way. So I made an appointment with my priest (as we do in the Episcopal Church—the rector of one’s parish mentors one through the process) and talked with him about the idea. “Oh, no! You aren’t being called to ordination! Girls don’t do that.” (I’m sorry to say this is a direct quote.) And then, seeing the devastation on my face, “You’re probably confusing it with the urge to have a family.” The Diocese of Fort Worth didn’t ordain women at that time, you see.

So I married, and had a family, and over time discovered: no, that’s not it. As the years went on, things changed in the church around women’s ordination, and God leaned on me ever more. Finally, I gutted up and went to my priest, a different one this time. “I just really, really think God is telling me to explore ordination,” I said, with fear and trembling. What if he said “no” as well? I was afraid I would be unmade. But he said, “Oh, I think you would be a fabulous priest!” And off we went, into the new adventure.

2. Tell us something you remember about your ordination

My diaconal ordination was like getting suddenly married in the Elvis Chapel. One Friday, Nedi Rivera (my ordaining bishop) said, “Listen. We’re ordaining some candidates here next Saturday. You come too, and we’ll ordain you here.” After a long struggle, we still hadn’t been able to get permission to do my ordination in Fort Worth, where they were in the thick of schism. Their former bishop had left, taking 80% of the people and property with him, and no other bishop had yet been consecrated to work in that territory. With no one to give permission for Nedi to come in and act as a bishop, we were in limbo. Upon hearing Nedi’s words, I packed up, flew out on Thursday, and was ordained on Saturday, in a place I had never been, with people I had never met. There was even a server with an Elvis haircut! It was crazy, and fun, and more than a bit scary—and then it was done! Unlike many weddings at the Elvis Chapel, I never regretted it for a single second.

3. What advice would you give those being ordained this month?

​The main advice I would give is to be completely and firmly committed to keeping the Sabbath—not in terms of a regular day off, but in terms of the rich, fruitful spiritual practice that invites you into delight, as outlined in books like Sabbath: The Ancient Practices (Ancient Practices Series) by Dan B. Allendar, PLLC. (There are other, even better books about it, I’m sure.) This advice is somewhat in the vein of “do as I say, not as I do” but I have learned that when I am keeping Sabbath faithfully, my ministry is better. So often, we clergy are quite willing to break this commandment, but when we keep it, life is more joyful and full of delight, and we become more resilient and wise. I commend anyone about to be ordained to this faith-filled practice.

4. Many people don’t understand about being both a deacon and a priest. What is the transitional diaconate? Can you tell us more about that?

​In the Episcopal Church, priests are ordained as transitional deacons for about a year until their priestly ordination. There are also vocational deacons, that is, people who are deacons all their lives without seeking priestly ordination. What a mess! Like a lot of things in the church, this situation of having two sorts of deacons represents an evolution between two ways of being church. In times past, a deacon was sort of a “junior priest” waiting to fully hatch. Now, the vocation of a deacon is understood as its own end; it’s not a pause on the way to another ministry.
​Deacons speak to the church for the world, challenging the church to understand and engage the issues of the larger world. It is a prophetic ministry in the Episcopal Church, often telling the truth no one wants to hear. This is a contrast to the priestly ministry, which is one of spiritual nurture and care to the people of the church. Deacons work independently of the parish, and are assigned by the Bishop rather than hired by the parish.
​In addition, deacons have certain liturgical duties reserved to them: reading the Gospel in the midst of the people, leading the Prayers of the People, calling the congregation to confession, and dismissing the gathered people into the world. These are specifically identified as being for deacons, not for lay people or the priest.​
​Together, the priest and deacon are one entire ministry team. The priest nurtures the people in their spiritual lives so that they go out to serve the world; the deacon leads their service until they are tired, when they return to be nurtured again. It’s almost a praxis/reflection cycle, similar to that identified by Paulo Friere.
​The Episcopal Church continues to be a mish mash, ordaining people first as deacons, then as priests, yet also ordaining people to the vocational diaconate. At some point, I hope we will catch up and structure ordination in a way that more closely reflects our current understanding of the Orders. In the meantime, I am humbled and honored to do diaconal duties in the rite if there is no deacon present, and I try to build understanding of the diaconal and priestly vocations working together. I often say that a congregation that does not have a deacon is as impaired as a congregation that does not have a priest. May we grow in that understanding!

5. You have experience with ministry as a person with “invisible” disabilities. What can you share about that?

​This is a difficult subject because, on the one hand, I feel like most of what I would say is trite, and on the other hand, I really don’t know what it’s like to minister without my physical challenges. They are part of who I am. (I have diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and hypothyroidism.) I remember when I was diagnosed with the hypothyroidism, I asked the doctor, “What does that mean?” She said, “It’s a chronic condition…” and I interrupted her. “You can stop right there. Give that diagnosis to the next patient. I have accepted my quota of chronic conditions, and it’s someone else’s turn.” It can be a real juggling match to deal with all of these at once.
​But it is what it is. The effects of these illnesses can vary day to day, and some days are a real dance between them. But I do think they have made me a better minister in some ways. One reason is because I am sometimes full of myself. Just about the time I start thinking I’m a superhero, one of my illnesses will kick up and remind me of my real size. Another reason is that I am able to understand what it is like to live with pain, and I accept that some things people do are a result of that. So if someone is behaving badly, I am more likely to cut them a break (after I judge them for a while, of course) and I am able to have more compassion than I would if I never had to deal with certain things myself. A third reason is that I am really good at sitting with pain—yours or mine. I do it 24/7 and there’s no fixing that. In ministry, sitting with someone’s pain without trying to fix it or diminish it can be a wonderful act of love. These are ways that my life is positively impacted by the illnesses I have.
​These are not “blessings” of having a disability. I hate that whole idea! It takes really good boundaries to defend myself against people who want to manage my illnesses for me, or talk about them when I don’t want to, or reframe them into things that are somehow bright and happy. Fie upon all that! This is even more complicated when the people doing it are parishioners. I’m very good at setting boundaries, but sometimes in doing so I leave rubble behind me. Lovingly, pastorally setting boundaries? That’s harder.
​I do look forward to the Christian vision of the world as a place where, finally, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” and “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ (Rev. 7:17 and 21:4). Then we’ll all be free of the burdens we’re working with, and it will be as though they have never been. That is my hope; that is the hope of all of us.

Thanks ClayOla! Now for the rest of you January Ordiversary peeps, tell us about yours!

Teri Peterson is a minister in the Church of Scotland, and she is sharing this party with you from a sidewalk cafe in Miami, getting ready to go on the RevGals Big Event, with friends she has met through this incredible organisation.

RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back to the specific post. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. 

5 thoughts on “Ordiversary Party: Happy New Year!

  1. I love the image of God as a dog, scooching in ever closer.
    And I had no idea what the differences were with deacons/priests, etc in the Episcopal tradition. That was edifying. Thank you! And thank God for you and your ministry, ClayOla!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. On January 8, I will have been ordained as a pastor in the PC(USA) for 7 years. I did not realize I was called into ordained ministry until my late 20s because I didn’t see women serving as pastors in any of the churches I attended and didn’t know it was a possibility – I started out as a teacher. As I started talking about my exploration re: seminary, I received affirmation – the most frustrating part was learning that my dad had noticed gifts for this when I was in college and didn’t say anything because he believed I had to figure it out for myself. I served in rural southeast Iowa in my 1st call and am now in rural western New York, 4 months into my 2nd call. My ordination felt bittersweet because it took place in the presbytery I was going to serve in and not the presbytery which had supported me through the process – only my family was able to attend. While I am still getting settled in NY, I look forward to learning more about the area, discerning ways to plug in to the community, and working with my congregation to carry out the work God is calling us to.


  3. January 7 is my ordiversary. This will my 19th year in ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — I graduated from seminary in 2000 and was ordained in 2001. It takes time to find a call — required for PCUSA ordination — especially as a single woman pastor, because some congregational search committees still find that a stumbling block. Like Marci, I knew that the Episcopal Church had deacons and priests but didn’t know the roles of each. ClayOla, I also love your analogy of the dog slowly making its way into your lap! It took me 14 years to make the move from secular career to seminary. I am so sorry you got such a negative response to your first declaration that you felt called to ministry; I had heard that some Episcopal dioceses (if that’s the word) were/are opposed to ordaining women. I am grateful for the PC(USA) and also our mother church, the Church of Scotland, for being open to the ordination of women 50 (Scotland) and 60+ (PCUSA) years ago.


  4. My story is not unfamiliar, but it is a little different than the above. I started a blog and joined RevGalBlogPals early in the process as a Pal, and was greatly helped in my ongoing discernment by the encouragement and wisdom of this group.
    I am not ordained as a minister of word and sacrament. I grew up in churches that did not recognize women in ministry and really did not recognize introverts in ministry, so even though I ostensibly understood some churches ordained women, I never thought that would be for me. I became an English teacher and eventually earned my Ph.D.
    Meanwhile, as I began my graduate work, I left the Baptist churches of my youth behind and eventually joined a Presbyterian Church (USA) (while working on my dissertation) and everything changed. I was ordained a ruling elder January 9, 2011 along with others in a regular officer ordination and installation service. My cousin had died 3 days before, and I was pretty much in a fog. The one thing I remember is elder MK telling me that she had chosen me as the new officer she would be specifically praying for through the year.
    The next year, during the regular ordination and installation of officers, as I laid hands on others for the first time, I was able to take in much more of the service, and renew the vows for myself.
    Once I began serving as an elder, I found myself longing to do more. I was also in an awkward in between place of having finished my dissertation, having 2 small children, and not having a steady job. We had 2 men go through seminary internships with the church, and my frustration at what they got to do and I didn’t was pretty strong, especially since I knew I was probably better at it than they were (not at all of it, but some of it). I wasn’t in a position to go to seminary (I had already done graduate school while my spouse supported me and we had 2 small children), so my pastor and session designed a Lay Internship for folks who wanted ministry experience outside seminary. I did that, and then applied again, and then the church created a staff position and hired me as “Associate for Worship.” Through all of this, I was mentored by my pastor and I read voraciously, blogs and books. Meanwhile, the Presbytery’s CPM was working on creating a strong Commissioned Ruling Elder program (locally we are calling it Commissioned Local Pastor). My pastor’s spouse was chairing the committee and he wondered if I would be interested. I did a mostly online certificate in ministry through Austin Seminary, and applied to be a CRE. Eventually, I was approved to look for a call and we made the case that the job I was already doing was pastoral in nature (I was already preaching somewhat regularly as well as creating worship and various other things) and would be enhanced by my ability to administer the sacraments (the only thing I couldn’t do at that point).
    All that to say, last year, on January 21, in a regular service that also included welcoming new members and ordination and installation of officers, I was commissioned as a local pastor. I sort of got to plan the service, but it was also mostly just a regular service. A retired pastor who works with our deacons suggested that I didn’t need to have hands laid on me because I had already done that when I was ordained as a ruling elder. He also thought I could just be in line with the other folks being ordained/installed that day. I fought to have my moment separately and to have hands laid on me and have my friend sing a solo. I got those things. I had my moment. MK who had prayed for me in 2011 happened to be our Presbytery Moderator in 2018, so she was the one who commissioned me, and she stoled me with a stole she had made. My colleague robed me. It was a good day. I may always be wistful that I came late to the party and have chosen a slightly different path, but I am grateful for a pastor (now colleague), Session, congregation, and Presbytery who have recognized my gifts and found a way to allow me to use them.


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