The Ordination Paradox

Amanda Kersey just got ordained and is singing I'll Fly Away

“How does it feel, Rev?” “What’s it like?” “Are you used to it yet?” These are just a few of the questions I have been asked within the last couple of weeks after my ordination. To be honest I feel a mixture of emotions and think I will for some time. After the first week at the surface I felt relief, excitement, happiness, contentment, confidence and to be honest a little sadness. However, after my second week there was new deeper emotion and I couldn’t name it. It was bothering me so badly I actually had to stop blogging to figure it out. To put it simply, I feel that a wrong has been righted. And with that there is new found stillness in my mind, soul and body. A stillness that in some way feels distantly familiar.

Listening to all of the human interest stories from the Olympics helped me articulate what was going on for me. Hearing some of the inspiring stories and sacrifices the athletes made over the years—something I can halfway understand as a former USS and collegiate swimmer. However, for me the swimming analogy is a little deeper. I’m still not really sure what happened to me as a swimmer and to be honest I’m not sure it was just one thing. It’s more like it was a perfect storm. It’s not something I totally regret, because I truly and deeply feel like I am exactly where I need to be in my life and the bad and the good attributed to me being where I am. I do, however, feel that what happened to me as a swimmer had a good chance of repeating itself in my professional career and calling. I felt that old urge to settle, buckle under, back off because my drive upset others (having moms of my teammates yell at me in the locker rooms) and do “just enough.” I gave in for a while allowing myself to be walked over, overworked and underappreciated in my marriage and in the church. As a kid I was at the mercy of others, but as an adult it was all me and this time enough was enough. I thought about the words of Christ that we are to forgive seventy times seven. I also recalled the biblical examples of where people parted ways without cross feelings, but with an understanding that it just wasn’t working. For me I worked hard to forgive not only others, but myself for allowing myself to be used in those ways. I had to make the decision to walk away from my spiritual tradition in 2008 in order to do what I know I am supposed to do now and set myself up for the future. It was an excruciating and yet beautiful process, one I have both hated and loved.

I ignored the pulling in my life towards ordination for years for many different reasons. I knew my life would have to drastically change—I knew it would expedite the end of a significant relationship, bring some dissension within my family and force me to break ties with a religious community that once loved and nurtured me and I it. However, the scariest part of ordination was the internal dialogue I had to engage with myself and God as I had to consider what it meant to follow a God that I felt was calling me out of and against everything I had been taught and believed for so long. When God lives in a box and Gods actions and motivations can be surmised in a nice tightly wrapped systematic theology it’s easy to get comfortable and dare I say arrogant. This process broke me in new ways as I had to come to the realization my two degrees in religion speak more to the fact that I enjoy academia than my understanding of God. God has once again shown me that the truth of the words of Isaiah, “God’s ways are not my ways and God’s thoughts are not my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). I was once again reminded that when God calls us out into new places there are critics on all our sides, encouraging us to doubt and question and even at times suggesting our faith is immature and misguided. However, I have once again been reminded to claim the truth that the voices of the many do not outweigh the whisper of the One. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to others. In fact I believe others are a way in which God speaks to and through us. However, it felt too reminiscent and I had given in before, but not this time.

July 22, 2012 I was ordained in the UCC after having hands laid upon me both literally and figuratively affirming the call of God on my life and having a church promise to support me. This public affirmation for me once again brought a deep sense of healing making visible something I had only been able to imagine. I have known the call on my life since I was 17, but to have it confirmed in front of witnesses transforms the internal into the external causing something mystical and supernatural to happen. The wrong had been righted. After years of being denied job applications, having to have checks from the church written to my ex-husband instead of me for the work I had done and even having churches offer to pay for his seminary and not mine all that injustice has been righted. Now, I am not one of those who believe that the past is somehow magically erased, but I do believe it can be shelved. I don’t want to forget, because it is what drives me to look for others who have had similar experiences and creates in me a new found sensitivity.

There is no anger or resentment (anymore). I am truly grateful for a religious upbringing that introduced me to God, taught me so much about spiritual discipline and gave me a love for scripture. I’m forever thankful for the roots, but sometimes plants are uprooted and replanted in order to fully grow. The sadness of ordination has been that there has been very little acknowledgement from people in my past—the tradition which I left. I’m sure it’s because some think I have lost my mind or at least temporarily gone insane. Perhaps some think maybe if it’s not acknowledged it does not exist. However, the support I have received has been amazing and for right now that is enough. It’s already opened up some interesting opportunities to meet others. All in all I’m pretty excited about the future, but also feeling grounded in the present.

Ordination on YouTube

Here is the final playlist of videos from my ordination. There are five videos that will play straight through if you let it, or you can use the advance button to get to the next video.

  1. Thoughts before the ordination
  2. Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas’ sermon
  3. Special music: Lois Myers sings “Be Strong, Take Courage”
  4. Ordination liturgy including laying on of hands
  5. Unedited complete service

Unicorn, Meet Human Being With Spiritual Needs

“After 12 different phone calls I could not even make contact with a “unicorn.” When someone did FINALLY call me back 3 hours later, I suggested they start promoting women in their order as maybe that would help them become more organized and enable them to provide services for people which they insist people need. You can image how the rest of the phone played out. :)”

Its not all old hymns and prayers, folks!

Observing Epiphany (When Epiphany Wasn’t Cool)

I’m sorry, but the Lectionary readings just aren’t doing it for me. And to be honest, I am just not interested in parsing some verbs or offering some kind of literary criticism or insight of scripture at the moment. I am, however, into fun. So let’s try something different.

At the risk of sounding a little like Sophia from the Golden Girls, picture it: we’re in Marietta, Georgia, maybe in the late 80s. It’s Christmas, which is the only holiday my mother would decorate for. After all, everyone knows that Halloween is “the Devil’s Holiday” (I am being sarcastic). My dad has managed once again to string the 15 foot Santa and reindeer replica between the two trees in our front yard. The Christmas tree with all its different colored lights and icicles is sparkling in the living room. It’s late. My parents are in bed and I am sneaking down the hallway with my Rainbow Bright in hand, quiet as a mouse. (Don’t act like you don’t know what Rainbow Bright is.) I get to the living room, now crawling across the burnt orange shag carpet, past the wood paneling that would really mess with you now. Finally, there it is! The Nativity. For some reason I was fascinated with the figurines. I am not really sure if it was the real hay or the fact that I played with them like dolls, but I remember spending hours on the living room floor playing with the nativity pieces.

Having some 20-plus years to think about this childhood experience I think I have made some conclusions. I think I was fascinated because the traditional nativity scene just throws everyone together and when you think about it… what a bunch! There are angels, a young mother, a carpenter, shepherds, and Magi—all of which are hovering around a little baby in a feeding trough. Even with this kind of diversity, the Magi stood out for me. I remember thinking they were a tad overdressed and that their presents weren’t really practical for a baby, but as a kid that is about as far as it went. As an adult I can see why I was intrigued back then, because even now I am still intrigued. There is just so much we don’t know about them. For example, do we really know how many there were? We don’t know at what time in Jesus life they visited. We don’t really even know what they did in life even though some scholars have suggested they were astrologers. There are more questions than answers. What we do know is that they are the proverbial Other. They represent the Gentile, the foreigner, the outsider, and yet they were beckoned to come and see about Jesus, a Jew.

Even with all the mystery that surrounds them we do know two things. Scripture records the Magi as having brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are those who ascribe symbolism to the gifts and that may be the case; it is interesting to note that such descriptions are given about the gifts and not the givers. Scripture also states that through a dream the Magi were warned about Herod, thus making them protectors of the Christ child. The Magi, whoever they were, journeyed together, brought gifts, and eventually become the saviors of the child. I love it! For me it is the quintessential expression of inclusion.

Those many years ago as a child I was celebrating Epiphany when Epiphany wasn’t cool, and I didn’t know it. I was observing the power and importance of Emmanuel. I recognized that God beckons all ranging from shepherd to Magi to come and see what God has done. Perhaps it is a lesson I had forgotten as an adult and needed to be reminded of through the eyes of child that with God, all are welcome!

Waiting, Watching

When I was in elementary school I loved Fridays. Not only was it “tater tot day” in the cafeteria, but every Friday we played dodgeball during PE. Dodgeball was one of my favorite games; running, jumping, and yes, even the occasional opportunity to throw a ball at your classmate! (You know the one!) However, one of the best aspects of dodgeball was even when you were “tagged out” and having to wait on the sidelines, if your teammate caught an opponent’s ball your teammate could choose to have you come back into the game thus giving you a “do-over.” What I have learned in life as well as in dodgeball, is that the waiting can be hell. How absurd then that Advent, a whole season in the Christian tradition, is about waiting.

Like most seminarians I was coerced into studying biblical languages; it was just one of the many gifts of seminary. Through all the blood, sweat, and tears studying these languages caused me, I learned to love and value the original meaning of each intended word. For example, the words for waiting in both Greek and Hebrew are used at times as synonyms for watching. To make things worse, both languages suggest an attitude for which these two verbs should happen—both positive. Excuse me, but I am a child of the 80s. My generation has never known life without a microwave! We don’t wait well. According to the biblical languages, I am told not only to wait, but to be positive about it! It was one thing to wait on the sidelines as a kid, but as an adult? Come on! Let’s just be honest: waiting is about being in transition and transition can bring up a multitude of feelings, most of them unpleasant!

Over the last three months I have had a crash course in waiting, watching, and attitude adjustments. After almost a year of prompting by Spirit I did it; I quit my job, packed my stuff, and moved me and my dog to the great state of Washington in order to pursue more education. In my head I expected everything to be nicely wrapped and just waiting on me—after all, I did what Spirit prompted. I knew things would eventually work out, but did not expect to be waiting on a job, especially in this economic climate. As you can imagine, as the days passed with no calls of offers the fears grew and the questions began to surface. The questions soon led to deeper questions which I now see was part of the watching/preparing. The time I was able to dedicate to these questions has had a profound impact on the way I will go about my future work and practice. I almost missed it because I was too busy grumbling, complaining, and cursing at God about the waiting and so I forgot to participate in the watching. What I have learned (or maybe re-learned) is that the gift of waiting is the watching. Watching is finding God in the present even when the present is filled with uncertainty. Watching is our part; our participation which we do by asking the questions and going ahead by preparing ourselves as if that for which we are waiting is already here.

This year, my Advent is remembering that no matter how much I think I know what I need, God knows more. God is more creative than my wildest dreams, and when God insists that I wait, it is for a reason! My job offer did come and once again I was humbled and in awe not only because of the job itself, but because of the details that are so tailored to my situation—this job was created for me. If you find yourself like me, questioning and doubting while waiting, watch for the gift within the present and remember, God is always on time.

The Empty Chair

empty chair with man's old shoes in a stone room.Two chairs once side by side, both having worn away markings in the carpet suggesting years of permanence.

Perfectly sited for viewing pictures that hang neatly on the walls revealing two lives shared together. These chairs have stories, and if they could speak they would tell you 43 years worth of late night conversations, midnight snacks, newspapers, coffee, and hand holding. Yes, lots of hand holding. At one time, these chairs were solace for the two people.

Now, they are painful reminders of what was.

Using her cane to point, she states, “I would like them back together.” You see these chairs have been separated for some time pulled apart and placed in different rooms. In their place a brown metal hospital bed has now worn its markings into the carpet. Today, the bed was disassembled and carried away as it is no longer needed. Now there is nothing but an empty space. “Do you think you could help me,” she asks. “Sure, just tell me where you want them.” As I begin pushing and pulling them one at a time I am instantly aware of their smell and texture and it’s in this moment I realize what is happening in this sacred space. Like a shattered glass can no longer hold its contents neither will these chairs absorb any more stories…some things really can’t be fixed.

Having found their original markings using the carpet to navigate my way she sits down heavy, as if all the weight in the world now rests on her lap. Labored breathing with dramatic pause she asks…

“Chaplain, tell me how do I live the rest of my life with an empty chair?”

Camping, Potter, and the End of the World

Thank you Mr. Camping, No, I’m serious. Keep reading. I would like to take just a moment to put this out there. As much as I am disgusted and (I’ll be honest) a little embarrassed at the moment to be associated with the title ‘Evangelical Christian,’ I have had somewhat of a revelation about myself while pondering the “end of the world” according to Mr. Camping. Mind you, eschatology and apocalyptic literature has never interested me, especially in seminary. I find it somewhat entertaining when people talk with such piety and authority when discussing such matters, especially those of whom share the same faith as I. How ridiculous (and a little frightening to be honest) to hear others when they suggest they speak for God or understand the mind of God. I digress. If anything, for me the more I have studied sacred texts and served as clergy, the deeper my awareness of my own ignorance. The way I see it whatever happens, happens and there is not a damn thing any one of us can do about it. If God did indeed create the world (which I believe God did) God and God alone will draw it to its intended conclusion. For me, Mr. Camping, I do not object to your proclamation of the physical return of Christ, my objection is that you believe to have had some foreknowledge. I too can quote scripture, sir, and with two degrees in religion I can assure you (and any one else who believes to have attained some kind of precise time and date) are indeed liars. I understand how for some the return of Christ is to be anticipated but it has been suggested his return is imminent since the birth of the early church. You sir are another voice singing an old song. Ok, I need to stop here.

For me the present is what I have been gifted and it is in need of my attention. However, in the spirit of the day I took my coffee to the beach early this morning to consider how I might spend my last day. Well, so far it’s coffee and breakfast at the beach, a long drive down the 101, writing this little piece and probably a little later a movie. Now, I know what you are thinking—she’s boring, and I agree with you because it’s what I thought. But as I was driving I had a thought and it made me laugh out loud because it was about Harry Potter. According to some in the religious right (with which I am assuming Mr. Camping is affiliated), Harry Potter is considered witchcraft and sorcery and, of course, evil. Good thing we do not burn at the stake anymore because it is maybe what Mr. Camping would suggest for me. My thought was about the Mirror of Erised. The Mirror of Erised (‘desire’ spelled backwards) is a mirror Harry stumbles upon while roaming around the castle one night. At the top of the mirror are the words “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.” Harry of course saw himself with his deceased parents because more than anything Harry misses his parents. Ron sees himself as Head boy and Quidditch Cup champ because Ron struggles with being the best friend of Harry who is the most famous wizard of their time and has a desire to prove himself. One night when Harry is visiting the mirror Dumbledore appears to him and gives him both advice and warning about the mirror. Dumbledore tells Harry that the mirror shows the “deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts. The happiest person in the whole world would look in the mirror and see a reflection of exactly the way he or she is.” He goes on to tell Harry “Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible.”

I know others have been joking and making sarcastic remarks this whole week about the end of the world. I know this because I am one of them and will do so again the next time another prediction is offered. I think often about my life as I work hospice, and being surrounded by death makes one think about life on a regular basis. But it has been interesting to hear others—especially those in the media and other public areas openly process their life and the quality of their lives. It made me think about the mirror in that I planned to do everything on May 21, 2011 the way I normally spend my Saturdays. But…what about the mirror? I wonder what it would reveal. For me, no burning desires to do anything today differently than yesterday (that I know of) and for those hopes/dreams of the “what if’s” I feel as if I have made my peace if they never happen. But I question if I really have. It would be interesting to see what the mirror would reveal but then again I would really have to consider if I would want to know about my ‘hidden desires.” Something to ponder…

So thank you Mr. Camping for this little exercise. Seriously, I appreciate the opportunity to think even though I am sure this was not your intention. So out of my appreciation I would like to offer something for you to ponder, how do you intend to explain May 22, 2011?

The Three Women

I am not a writer, but there are those times when I feel it necessary to write, if only so I don’t forget the significance of events. Today I experienced something that was so refreshing and meaningful I needed to write about it, as it confirmed in a new way something I have known for some time. I am not a ‘spring person,’ but for some reason this spring I have been enjoying all the pastels and flowers in spite of myself. I also feel I experienced Easter differently than in years past. I am still not sure as to all the reasons as to why, but I am willing to think about them for as long as I need to. I think one thing I have paid more attention to this year is the idea of resurrection and the promise of new life that it offers. For me, as many of you know over the past few years I have wavered between mixed emotions regarding my call into ministry. Anger, excitement, disappointment, discontent, and exhilaration are just a few of the vast numbers of emotions I have experienced. It is interesting to note these emotions are and were usually entwined with a church community; not necessarily my idea of God. I continue to work through them and have found my work as a chaplain to be a major part to my healing and integration. For me this year my resurrection was to consider a new way of serving and ministering as a female minister. I have needed for sometime to step out of the old bondage which was negative comments and negative gender roles that were not only oppressive, but unhealthy and damaging.

Today was just another example of how this work ‘heals’ me. I was making an initial visit with a patient who just came onto service. The patient was in his room and I stayed in the living room with the spouse. For almost two hours she talked about their marriage, their children, and their faith. She brought out pictures of them at their wedding and walked me through in pictures almost forty years of marriage and their life together. As the visit was coming to a close I went into the bedroom and found the patient no longer breathing, he had passed during our conversation.

I waited for the mortuary to arrive and to my surprise two women drove up in a van. The two women in the van and myself attended to the body, cleaning and getting ready for transfer. I couldn’t help but think about holy week and resurrection morning when the women came to the tomb. The women brought their spices and perfumes for proper burial. I can’t explain what I experienced in that room, but I know it was healing. I just finished a class in seminary on worship where worship was defined as “any encounter with God.” For me this experience was worship, a sobering realization of life, death, connection with God and humanity. To experience this with women who came there to work and to help create and bring dignity to the deceased and the family was amazing. At one point we all three looked at each other and just smiled one of us saying, “this was really nice, all us girls.” As we were leaving, the spouse of the patient kissed my cheek and said, “How lovely to have such wonderful girls looking after my husband, I know he is in caring hands.”

Late Night Chaplain Thoughts

in the gardenAlzheimer’s is a terrible disease. I often hear patients’ families explain it as losing their loved ones “over and over.” Along with strange and embarrassing behaviors there is the pain of the patient not remembering who you are. Often mother does not recognize daughter nor husband recognize wife. It’s an awful pain to see that someone with whom you have shared memories and your life and yet they can not recall your name.

I watched similar experiences happen to my grandmothers, although neither suffered with Alzheimer’s. My mother’s mother was a proud woman always concerned with me “acting like a lady.” I think I must have heard that gentle reminder (not so gently) enough times to equal the hairs on my head. (How does a lady act anyways? I digress. ) Watching her decline was something I did not really understand until I began working hospice. I still don’t think I fully understand it now. I remember thinking each time I saw her, and that was often enough, feeling as if I was seeing less of her or at least the real her. On the other hand,  you might say my dad’s mother was the ‘rebel’ of the family: the opinionated Democrat living amongst right-winged Republicans. This makes me laugh now. I remember her vitality shooting pool with her in the basement and catching lightning bugs in the backyard. As different as they were watching them slowly change was a terrible thing I can remember not wanting to be around them at all, because they were not the same people. I have to force myself to recall some of these memories and feelings as I think I have forgotten most of them on purpose. Not too long ago I was sitting with two friends enjoying a glass of wine and making homemade cookies when one asked me how much of my family history fuels my desire to work hospice; a job where impending death and debilitating illness is an every day occurrence. This is a question I am still considering.

Getting back to my original concept, Alzheimer’s is terrible and yet I find it fascinating. I am often amazed at what memories are remembered and which ones are forgotten. I know the clinical jargon short term verses long term memory, but for me as a chaplain I am more interested in what is imprinted in someone’s soul. What was encouraged? What was important? What changed them? Today I had a routine visit with an Alzheimer’s patient even in the midst of her paranoia and sundowners all I had to say or sing was “I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses…” —and sure enough there she was joining me in the chorus. Listening to her voice, old and frail and completely off pitch, but there it was, the words perfectly remembered. After our duet was finished she took my hand and said “it was there sleeping and you woke it up.” During my moment of complete silence due to me simply not having the words to respond she stroked her grey hair and said “you know in the garden there is no confusion and total healing.”

Lent: Taking On; Letting Go

A couple of years ago I was challenged by a peer to “take on” rather than “let go” for Lent. Now, as a former Southern Baptist (which I was for almost 25 years) the idea of Lent has always been somewhat foreign to me. However, as I have gotten older and found my way into more of a liturgical community I have found that not only do I find great value in some of these observances, but I enjoy them and feel a sense of renewal in my spiritual life when practiced.

As a hospice chaplain, I can find myself in numerous crisis situations within a day. I may be called to a time of death, a family dispute or some other kind of crisis situation. I am expected to be present and in some way hopefully encourage and educate a family on how to cope. Living and working in crisis can change a person. Some become cynical or “rough around the edges” (I am talking about myself here); others withdraw and isolate from family and friends. Either way most people who are drawn to these kinds of working professions are drawn usually out of desire to “do good.” I am not talking negatively about a desire to do good, but I am suggesting we take caution and continually monitor our own desires.

While in seminary I was warned about the “clergy ego.” The idea that the pastor can do anything and should be able to do anything. I mean, after all, “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). As I write this I am rolling my eyes, but that is for another blog on another day. I want to hold this issue of the clergy ego for just a second and discuss how it relates to female clergy. Let’s be honest: women in our culture may have the vote and may be in the work place, but in some ways are still considered second class citizens. Now, please do not think me as a raging feminist who spends her free time burning her bras; in all reality I am very much an egalitarian. I am just pointing out that women are most of the time the caregivers. Think about it who fixes breakfast, who packs the lunches, who does the laundry, the dishes, and who keeps the family calendar, etc. We are taught to “take care” and this transcends our homes, community and work place. So where is the “ego” in this? Are women taught to have ego? Should women even think about ego, or should we just do. Ok, I’ll stop! :0)

I know what you are thinking, how does this relate to Lent? Well, getting back to the challenge of my peer, this year I have decided once again to “take on” for Lent. I am taking on self care of my whole self: mind, body and spirit. Below is a parable I found a few years ago (if I knew who wrote it I would give them credit), but I love this parable. For me it speaks to the gamble we take when we neglect ourselves while taking care of others.


The Little Girl and the Ungrateful Snake

A young girl was trudging along a mountain path, trying to reach her grandmother’s house. It was bitter cold, and the wind cut like a knife. When she was within sight of her destination, she heard a rustle at her feet.
Looking down, she saw a snake. Before she could move, the snake spoke to her. He said, “I am about to die. It is too cold for me down here, and I am freezing. There is no food in these mountains, and I am starving. Please put me in your basket so I can rest and please take me with you.”
“No,” replied the girl. “I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite me, and your bite is poisonous.”
“No, no,” said the snake. “If you help me, you will be my best friend. I will treat you differently.”
The little girl sat down on a rock for a moment to rest and think things over. She looked at the beautiful markings on the snake and had to admit that it was the most beautiful snake she had ever seen.
Suddenly, she said, “I believe you. I will save you. All living things deserve to be treated with kindness.”
The little girl reached over, picked up the snake gently placing him in her basket and preceded toward her grandmother’s house.
A few minutes later the snake spoke to her again. “Thank you” he said “but if it’s not too much to ask I am cold, can you put me in your coat pocket.” The little girl thought for a moment and decided to grant his request.
Upon reaching her grandmother’s cottage she discovered although her grandmother wasn’t home, there was a fire and plenty of food. The snake popped out from her pocket, “Oh, please little girl, I am still so very cold could you place me in front of the fire? The little girl did what he asked. She then went into the kitchen to make herself a plate of food.
“I know I have asked a lot from you” he said, “but if I could please have one more thing.” What is that she asked, “Could I please have a saucer of milk?” As she leaned over he lunged at her, biting her on the hand.
“How could you do this to me?” she cried. “You promised that you would not bite me if I would protect you from the bitter cold.”
The snake hissed, “You knew what I was when you picked me up,” and slithered away.

May all of us remember the value of self care especially my female clergy friends. Thanks for all you do!