15 years ago, the Chaplain was in my class. It was my final year teaching high school and her senior year. I grew particularly close to the Chaplain and her friends as we studied the great British writers together, and I remain in close touch with the one who became a high school English teacher (and still credits me with that, which awes me because she is so amazing) and with the Chaplain.
The Chaplain went off to to UC San Diego to pursue a bachelor’s degree and I went off to Purdue University to pursue a Master’s and Ph.D. We met up for lunch when we were all back on vacation.
The Chaplain’s family was not particularly religious, but when she was in high school, she was part of an Evangelical church many of the high school kids attended. I was Southern Baptist. As she went to college, she became disillusioned with Evangelicalism and began attending a Methodist church. When I went across country to do graduate work, part of what I was leaving–along with an untenable job–was the church of my youth. I sampled many churches in my two years in Indiana.
In 2004, I came back to Southern California to be married. The Chaplain and friends were there. The Chaplain spent that school year in England. Computerguy and I visited her there over Christmas break. (I think it was that year. If not, it was the next.) When she came back and graduated, the Chaplain moved to New York City to teach with AmeriCorps. (We visited her in New York and went to Evensong at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which was walking distance from her house.) She did this for two years. While she was in New York, she began attending a Presbyterian church. As a couple, Computerguy and I found our way to the Presbyterians. One morning when the Chaplain was visiting and we were eating brunch together, she said, “I’ve started going to a Presbyterian church.” We said, “So have we.” a year or so later she said, “I think I am going to actually join the Presbyterian church.” We said, “So are we.”
And so on. When her AmeriCorps term was up, the Chaplain moved to Boston and began Harvard Divinity School as I finished my Ph.D. in English and began to be more involved in my church. She finished school and was married (and we attended the wedding in California, though not the graduation in Cambridge, but we did visit her in Boston more than once). She found work as a chaplain and I began to work part time at my church. I began to follow a non-traditional path into ministry, taking classes meant for leaders within congregations, and looking at the possibility of being commissioned as a local pastor. She began to be serious about going through the steps to ordination.
And so. On Sunday, the Chaplain will be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I will fly out and witness and participate as a representative of her youth, but mostly because we have been friends for 15 years. Because she is a good Presbyterian, she has sent out the order of worship with everyone listed and instructions for when and where to meet so we can go over it. It is a lovely service. And I know all the hymns (Here I Am, For Everyone Born, The Summons), not because either of us grew up with them, but because they are part of that 20th century hymnody that is dear to Presbyterians, evidently on both coasts. The named participants include 5 men and 7 women (yes, I counted) and 6 and 6 clergy/not clergy. Well done, my friend, well done. Very Presbyterian of you.
This is why I found a home in the Presbyterian church. We are egalitarian. Any person can be ordained to any position. And, in theory, we have no hierarchy of ministry. There are usually both clergy and congregation members on the chancel in a worship service. In our Presbyteries and General Assemblies, we have even numbers of teaching elder and ruling elder (clergy/elder) representatives. On our Sessions the ruling elders outweigh the teaching elders. And we are thoughtful and intentional about the way we do things. We think about it, maybe too much. The prayers, the hymns, the scriptures, the sermon, the bits and bobs, the pictures on the bulletin cover fit the purpose of the service (hence the above named hymns in an ordination service: “Here I am, Lord…I will go, Lord…” “For everyone born, a place at the table…” “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name…” And we are Word (Christ) and word (scripture) centered. (And Presbyterians aren’t perfect and much of what I have said one could say about any mainline church. I think we were both drawn to Presbyterianism as a denomination, but also to the particular leaders and congregations we found ourselves in. It matters.)
Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea where either of us would have found ourselves. I was going to study English and continue teaching high school or college. She was off to study political science. Yet… Providence. As I heard a pastor say last night at a Session meeting I was observing, “I call that a God incident.”