It was eight years ago today, November 11, in which I embarked on the craziest journey of my life. On a sunny afternoon in north New Jersey, in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested town that I am sure none of the old Dutch names gracing the weathered headstones in the church’s cemetery would even recognize as the place they once called home, I was ordained to the office of minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.
It was a day with many emotions. Disbelief mixed with awe that was then mixed with tremendous gratitude that was then mixed with excitement for the next step to come that was then mixed with fear and trepidation for that very next step to come. Did I mention the emotions were many?
In just two short weeks I was moving to rural upstate New York to serve another 18th century church. This church, however, was not an anomaly for life in the small village had somehow escaped congestion. Some of the locals, though, would disagree with me for when I first visited their little village many shared with me their displeasure with the eyesore of the traffic light—their one and only traffic light—that winked red, green and yellow at you even when there was not a car in sight for miles. Mind you, the traffic light had already been there for a few years already. Yet the displeasure with it was as fresh as yesterday’s memories. I, though, couldn’t wait to call a place “home” where one traffic light was needed, well, not really needed….
Yes, in two short weeks. There were still many more boxes to pack and even more friends to say good-bye to. There was Thanksgiving dinner to share one more time in New Jersey at the home I grew up in. And there was my last sermon to preach for the congregation who nurtured me into ministry. Ordination day was here and the crazy journey was beginning.
My parents were there that November afternoon beaming with pride as brightly as the sun streaming into the sanctuary was. My brother was there as well in which I was grateful for as his disabled body made it hard for him to get out much. Often it was easier to let him stay home then to go through the ordeal of getting him out the door.
“Please God, let him be at my ordination,” was my prayer leading up to that afternoon, for my brother was the beating of my heart for ministry. He was the one who broke my heart opened to seeing the needs and feeling the pain of those labeled as “not normal” by a society in which I often question the normalcy of.
Ordination day was here and I remember the opening processional hymn soaring high up to heaven as the trumpeter joined the bellowing pipe organ. I remember my friend from seminary sitting next to me and I remember looking back at a packed sanctuary seeing a sea of faces that collectively told the story of my journey into ministry. Among those faces were the chapters yet to be written as members of the congregation of the one traffic light village up north were sitting in the old pews, beaming along with my parents.
The thing I remember the most, though, was the “laying on of hands,” the part of the service echoing back to the New Testament in which the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit. And so the one being ordained kneels on the ground and is surrounded by those already ordained and then hand after hand upon shoulder after shoulder, weight bears down upon the one kneeling. I wasn’t prepared for that moment.
I, in my ignorance, just assumed that the hands would be light and gentle, a show of sorts, just symbolic, simply grazing each other’s shoulders so that the one kneeling would not be crushed. But crushed I was. Within in seconds, clergy who have already been on this crazy journey called ministry, engulfed me to the point where I couldn’t see anything but the bottom hems of clerical robes and a variety of shoes. (Ooo…nice heels. Note to self: Must ask that minister where she purchased those shoes.)
I soon lost interest in shoes as I noticed the hands upon me weren’t light or gentle. The hands upon me were pressing down hard. I felt as if my knees were going to fail me and I was losing my balance and feared I was going to fall over. For a second I wondered how in heaven’s name was I going to get up gracefully after all of this.
Soon, though, the shock of the burden upon me eased, and my worries about getting up off the floor faded. I bowed my head and let the tears of thankfulness fall down my cheeks as I listened to the prayer being said about serving faithfully, following wherever, trusting always, loving all…and then I heard what I needed to hear then just as I need to hear now.
Serving God is indeed a heavy weight to bear. It is burdensome. It can crush you. It can bear down upon you. But you do not serve God alone. The pressure of the hands upon me was my tangible reminder of that. Those very hands that put so much weight on me were the very hands that held me when I thought I would fall and it was those very hands that helped me up when I needed to get up. All of a sudden I understood the magnitude of what I was entering into. I understood what a heavy weight I was to carry and that I was not to carry it alone. There are always hands eager to help and support you. And because of those hands, the weight, no matter how heavy, becomes blessed.
Eight years ago today, on a sunny November afternoon in an 18th century church that now stood as an anomaly in a congested New Jersey neighborhood, I said “yes” to God’s invitation to never go it alone in this life no matter where in life one is going. We just aren’t meant to do that.
Do you feel a weight crushing down upon you? Does it feel as if a burden is just too much? Are you wondering how in heaven’s name can you get up from where you have fallen and get up gracefully? If so, may you see the hand that is reaching out to help ease the burden. More importantly, though, may you feel the strong yet loving pressure of the hand that is always upon you. May you feel God’s hand—THE hand that makes all heavy weights blessed indeed.