STANDING AS AN LP
All sort of hopes and dreams are wrapped up in Ordination: one’s hopes for the Church, the feeling of affirmation, the nerve-wracking pressure of representing God to the world, etc.
One of the hopes for me was to be Ordained with my wife. It was the assuring feeling that I’m not doing this BIG thing alone, that I would have a companion. I have needed her so much throughout this whole process. But the dream of being ordained together didn’t last very long—less than six months after we began our ministries. The causes of this separation are not worth recounting, but the pain of it was two-fold: we each felt it in our own particular way.
For me, it was like a scab that I kept picking at. I would go about my work, just like she did. Every so often, something would happen to remind me that I was not ordainable, but she was. We were in the First Parish Project together, with many other Methodists. Inevitably, the conversation of ordination processes would come up. I remember sitting at dinner while two other young men from the same conference were talking about their processes. They were both advancing without a hitch. I remember keeping my head down, trying to finish my meal as quickly as possible, hoping they wouldn’t ask me about my process. They did. It was so shaming to say that I was still just an LP. I was as smart as they were. I had as good a theology as they did. I got good grades in seminary. I even had a mission background that no one else in the crowd had. And yet: I was not good enough. I established a rule early on: never to sell short Meredith’s accomplishments. I did well to fight off the demons of envy: I wasn’t mad at her, I was sad for myself. So as the gentlemen at dinner asked me about my process, I tried my best to swallow my hurt and uplift Meredith for her accomplishments. Nevertheless, in a group that I was really proud to be a part of, I couldn’t really express my sadness over my failures. I feared that it would come off the wrong way and soil my wife’s advancements.
One of the rituals at Annual Conference is the bestowing of authority upon Licensed Local Pastors, Assigned Supply pastors, etc. For the first couple of years, when it came time for LPs to stand and receive their authority, it was okay. I tried to appreciate my time on the lower rung. As Meredith was commissioned, that changed. There were two years where I stood with the LP’s and Meredith’s authority as conferred elsewhere. I remember standing, completely unable to lift my head up. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had failed again to get commissioned. The kicker was that there are many high quality local pastors in our Conference. I also believe in the ministry of the Local Pastor, that they do some of the best work in the Church. So I felt the double whammy of disrespecting them, while feeling like I belonged elsewhere.
Nevertheless, there has been a residual effect from finally getting the approval I’ve worked so long to receive. I had a dream that an ex-girlfriend showed up at Greenview and began criticizing the church and my leadership of it. Another dream was located at a college reunion, where we encountered one another. I don’t remember anything she said in the dream, just that I told her that I was an A+ pastor. I was reminded of the very real ways she didn’t believe in me. I’ve had other similar internal dialogues recently: fake arguments with old girlfriends, an antagonist classmate and a former employer. In each of these conversations, I both feel the pain of their rejection and defend my worth to them. My ordination process included a period where I was really defensive about my calling to ministry and internally doubtful that I was capable. Now that I am approved for ordination, I have to learn to let that fight end.
Meredith, for her part, shared in my pain and maybe even embodied it a bit too much. Time and again I would return from dCOM meetings with bad news. She would get furious. Those failures were tough on me for obvious reasons, but they were tough on Meredith as well. I wonder if the joy of her ordination was a bit stifled since I had fallen behind.
I remember standing at the altar as Meredith was being ordained. She knelt and was surrounded by the Bishop, members of the BOOM, her mentors, etc. We laid hands on her as the Bishop ordained her. As the Bishop was inferring upon Meredith the authority of a Full Elder, the fellow next to me whispered to me ‘Your time will come’. I remember thinking that I didn’t need to hear that…I had come to terms with my circumstances and was genuinely happy for Meredith. Looking back, I know that the quality of my ministry will always be measured by the quality of Meredith’s ministry. Six years ago as we began this journey together, that would have sounded great. Now I know how idealistic and naïve that feeling was. We will always be compared to one another. And I’ll probably always struggle to measure up. During the First Parish Project, Fred Craddock shared that it is always better to follow a good pastor, rather than a poor one. Following a good pastor, will force you (the new pastor) to ‘up your game’, to improve your skill set for ministry. Having a great pastor for a wife is like always following a good pastor. My skill set has certainly improved by watching and learning from her. At the same time, in order to claim my own territory on the Conference level, I have had to become clearer and more assured of my own abilities. Though I may not measure up in the minds of Conference officials, I know that I am becoming a quality pastor.