I have been ordained for nearly four years. It seems like much longer than that—so much has changed since that warm April day and that nearly-two-hour service. If I think back to the worship service itself, my memories focus on a few things:
- the passing of the peace (where I finally felt like a pastor for the first time)
- the sad tears that were shed (held at my home congregation in my hometown, two weeks before I moved across the country to my new churches, it was a time of farewell)
- the joining together of friends and family from completely different parts of my life
- the indescribable spirit and energy that lingered in the sanctuary, even afterwards
- the laying on of hands (all those hands on my head and shoulders were so heavy…little did I know how fitting that would be)
But if I think back to the preparations…my memories get much more colorful. As the details of planning the service, choosing colors, crafting and sending the invitations, arranging for hotels and transportation and food for special guests, and figuring out a reception came hurtling towards me, the whole event soon became known as “my wedding to Jesus.” After all, you only get ordained once! You even walk down the aisle, except your “bridesmaids” are your future colleagues. And since the planning time was all of approximately two weeks, it began to feel more and more like a shotgun wedding. I distinctly remember saying at one point, “If Jesus really loved me, we’d just go to Vegas and get married.”
Obviously I was joking…but only partially. This was a day and a worship service I had dreamed about for years (proving my church geekiness) and now it felt like I was being rushed through it without having a chance to really savor and enjoy the details. Some of the most important people in my life were coming many miles to be present for this, and yet I knew I would be lucky to spend ten minutes with them on the big day. Now, I have never been married, but as I’ve journeyed with friends and parishioners preparing for their own weddings, I have heard those brides express similar concerns.
At some point, I must have shared these frustrations with my closest group of friends from high school, and suddenly a frustrating metaphor started to become fun. We changed my cell phone ring tone to “Here Comes the Bride” and laughed hysterically every time it sounded. I was given a baseball hat that had been altered to read “JC’s Bachelorette.” Best of all, these closest friends decided that the night before the ordination, I needed an “anti-bachelorette party.” The theme: White Trash Marryin’ Jesus. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
I will spare you any further details of what one says, does, wears, and consumes at such a party (although it did include Boone’s Farm). The point is that many non-church people don’t really know what to think about an ordination. They know it’s important, but that’s about all. And explaining it in theological terms isn’t always the most helpful way. By jokingly relating my ordination to a wedding—something much more socially accessible—my friends were able to make sense of the whole event and help me celebrate in just the right way. My friends were supportive but not quite sure what to do about my ordination. Once I put it into the wedding paradigm, they knew exactly what to do: throw a party.
That day seems so long ago. But I will always remember it as the day I opened the door on this new version of myself. Just as when you marry, you remain yourself but are changed forever by binding yourself to this particular person, when you are ordained, you continue to be the unique and gifted person God created you to be, but so much in life changes by being bound to a particular people and to the Church as a whole. Such an important marker on life’s journey needs to be celebrated properly, whether you have newly acquired a congregation, a parish, or a spouse, and whether your name now sports a “Reverend” in front of it or a “Mrs.” (or other title of your choice post-marriage). I will always remember and thank my friends for bringing me that celebration, one last glorious chance to just be silly for a while and laugh with each other and at myself.
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