I had a much overdue catch up conversation last night with a dear friend who is serving God’s church. We went to seminary together for two years. My friend not only completed the Masters, but was soon ordained and called as an Associate Priest to a very large parish on the other side of the country -a parish where our particular tradition was first planted. And a parish that had seen its hey dey – like so many others – and was in desperate need to not only bring in new worshipers, but simply keep those who had joined the church at some point.
My friend’s first year has been tough in all the ways seminarians are taught to expect. Tribes within a congregation. Allegiances to personal pieties such as when to kneel or how the Eucharistic Prayer is physically animated by the Celebrant. Then there’s the choir, and the Youth Leader (or not), the schedule on a Sunday morning, the way newcomers are welcomed. And the list goes on. And in seminary, there are courses dedicated entirely to these expected first year-and-more road bumps. So my friend was prepared on an academic, even spiritual, level but the road bumps were so many that the hoped for ministry of unpacking the Word through preaching and revitalizing the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship lay at the roadside. There just wasn’t time.
And early in the first year my friend wondered what in the world God was doing such a mismatch it felt like. My friend wasn’t there to maintain the status quo, didn’t believe that was the call. Though grateful to have the position at all – the only full time Associate position in that diocese – my friend felt more like a place marker at best and a threat, at worst. Not a contributor or a changer or eye opener – or as we read in Jonah’s story – an angel of the Lord sent to save the church, to proclaim, but treading water in what was a very stormy sea.
So for much of the year, my friend has considered this first-year ordained ministry experience a stepping stone and wondered where the next place would be, hoping (and praying) that it might be back on my side of the country where my friend’s family and friends reside.
Ah, but as someone said, “You want to make God laugh? Just tell Him your plans.”
Which brings me back to our catch-up conversation. A trying summer that involved both family drama, lots of travel, and serious illness had worked together to usher in a moment in which my friend was prepared to step into the broad place God had intended all along. It was at meeting with the newly elected Bishop of my friend’s diocese. The Bishop gathered all the clerics in the diocese together for a meet and greet and to begin to unpack, together, some of the key issues before the church.
It was there, in that moment, that my friend knew why it was in this diocese, this parish that they had been called. My friend knew that it was by God’s grace and hand that the past year was not a stepping stone out of the diocese but preparation for this moment to speak up and out as a leader in this diocese and the parish to which my friend was called.
And as my friend described the Holy Spirit touch, described the moment and the aftermath, the joy, the certainty of the call – at least for the time being – I felt it, too. Felt my friend’s ‘knowing’ and gratefulness.
And then, this morning, Psalm 18 kicks of the readings and these verses
9 He brought me out into a broad place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
The Holy Spirit whispers again and reminds us all that to the broad place we are intended to go, all of us. And about my friend, the Spirit whispers this morning, “God called. God called for a reason. And now you know. And now you know why… because He delights in you!”