By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
It is said that the crown placed on Elizabeth II’s head at her coronation on June 2, 1953, in London’s Westminster Abbey, weighs about three pounds. The hefty weight of the St. Edward Crown, made in 1661, is not just because it is solid gold. It also has a lot of bling on it, most notably the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond, also known as the “Second Star of Africa.”
So heavy was the crown on such a petite frame that palace insiders revealed that Elizabeth had to practice walking gracefully in it. Standing tall and proud with such weight bearing down on one’s frame is always of the utmost importance for a monarch in the public eye. But the pressure to bear the weight with ease was even greater for young Elizabeth, as her coronation to the throne of England would be the first time the ancient and gallant ceremony would be televised. There would be no room for slouching, slipping or tripping.
Heavy lies the crown …
This saying has been on my mind a lot lately. No, I haven’t been literally walking around with a three-pound solid gold, gem-encrusted crown on my head these day (or any days, for that matter). The crown weighing on my head is a figurative one. It’s the heaviness that comes with caring for the people you have been entrusted to care for.
It’s the heaviness William Shakespeare was getting at when he penned the words in his play “Henry IV” — uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. What Shakespeare was calling his audience’s attention to was that there is great responsibility — and many sleepless nights — when tasked with leading a group of people. Over the years, Shakespeare’s eloquent words morphed into the modern version, “heavy lies the crown.” It is amazing to realize that so many of the sayings we take for granted come from the quill of just one man. Pure genius.
I am no queen. Far from it. But I am a pastor who often finds herself with sleepless nights as caring for God’s children is a responsibility not taken lightly. It is what I promised to do at my “coronation,” better known as “the ordination service.”
Rather than a crown of gold pressing down on my head, I had the tremendous weight of many hands bearing down on me during a time of prayer, asking for God’s strength and guidance upon me as a new shepherd of the flock. It’s interesting that “strength” and “guidance” were asked, for the pressure of current and retired pastors’ hands grew heavier as the prayer continued on.
It was a powerful moment, though, to feel the weight and to realize how this call would lead me to my knees crumbled in prayer. It was also powerful to not only feel the burdensome weight, but to realize I was not alone in this journey.
Heavy lies the crown …
My “crown” is giving me a headache lately as I find myself changing and growing as a pastor in this time of pandemic. I see a new vision for ministry. I want to be part of it, but I have the weight of those wanting the church to be as it was, to return to what is familiar, weighing me down. I also have the weight of being the voice of reason when it comes to what we can and cannot do in this time of COVID-19, especially when my voice of reason is spoken to a congregation that is the textbook example of being “vulnerable” to the virus.
No, we cannot sing hymns. No, you cannot take off your mask in the sanctuary. No, we really shouldn’t be in rush to get back into the sanctuary for worship. So, can you please tell me, theologically, what the rush is all about?
This past week the church’s beloved fish fry kept moving forward — but pastor, if we hold it outdoors, if we follow safety procedures, there’s no reason why we can’t have it — I kept being assured. The assurances didn’t help.
My sleep became more restless. One night I woke from a disturbing dream where people got sick after sharing a church meal together. I tried to brush it aside, praying that, as adults, those who might not feel safe participating in the fish fry would choose not to go.
My husband, while not falling into the definition of being vulnerable (although we are all vulnerable in one way or another), had already made the decision not to attend out of care and compassion for others. My soul, though, continued to be rattled. Then it came. My God moment.
A letter from a sister presbytery citing how a rural church, similar to the one I lead, had an outbreak of the virus. The letter was shared not to instill fear, but to serve as a cautionary tale. The church thought they were small enough for the virus not to happen to them. They also couldn’t justify cancelling their beloved event — a family fun day — for the very same reason the fish fry wasn’t aborted: It would be held outdoors. (It’s safe when an event is outdoors, right?) Fifteen people, all who attended the family fun day, became infected with COVID-19.
I shared the letter with my congregation. The reaction was not what I expected. There was anger, misunderstanding and a defensiveness that was not pretty. The fish fry was called off by the organizer, and several emails came to me slamming my role in it being called off.
Heavy lies the crown …
It’s been a tiring week complete with a rattled soul, sleepless nights, a disturbing dream, and many prayers to God asking for guidance. Then a sign, perhaps? A letter from another church sharing a cautionary tale that seemed too similar to the congregation I was responsible for. I felt my strength returning.
It doesn’t matter if you are royalty or a country pastor. It’s not easy leading people. Perhaps that is why the crown placed on a royal’s head is literally so heavy, reminding them at how uncomfortable and great the responsibility bearing down on them is.
Perhaps that is why pastors have the heavy weight of many people pressing down on them during the ordination prayer — a reminder of the pressures for caring for God’s children. And a reminder that those very hands pushing us down are the very hands capable of helping us back up again — only by God’s grace.
Yes, heavy lies the crown.