Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Loved My Ordination Service!

This post emerged from a conversation on the RevGals FB page, where someone asked a few days ago about ordination service ideas.  As I added some memories to the discussion, I said that I felt a blog post coming on, and here it is.


There are two basic ways in which one might make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (as well as many shorter variations or group experiences which offer a "taste" of the experience.)  One is to take a thirty-day period in relative seclusion, usually away at a retreat house, and devote one's entire life to the experience.  The other is to make the Exercises "in daily life," taking several months and extending each "day" of prayer over a week.  The former offers advantages of intensity and focus; the latter, of the mingling of the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of life with an unusual depth of the prayer.
I had imagined, I suppose, that my ordination service (and in my Presbyterian tradition, we celebrate ordinations individually) would be more akin to the former.  A day set apart, a deep and focused attentiveness to that One Thing, several hours of unadulterated celebration.
How could I possibly have anticipated any such thing?  Wishful thinking; never happens.  No, it was much closer to the mingling of sacred and . . .  perhaps the less so, perhaps not . . .  in daily life.
My son had been dead for three years.  I had begun to serve as pastor to my first church a month previous.  I was in the midst of the arrangements and testing required for breast cancer surgery.  Our music director's father was dying (and I really did not expect her to show up ~ until she did).  The simple act of finding a day had been nearly impossible; my daughter had graduate classes nearly every Saturday and Sunday, the professor I hoped would preach was booked into a schedule that mirrored hers, and then out of nowhere, the surgical schedules of two doctors intruded.
And yet . . .  it was wonderful.  It was a joy-filled, celebratory, extraordinary day. 
We held it in my home church, a sanctuary that, as I told my own pastor, I was hoping we might redeem, it having become a kind of nightmare space for me after Josh's memorial service.  (And we did come close.  I still see that urn of ashes in the chancel every time I walk in, but those are no longer knife-in-the-gut moments, as they were during the years when I completely abandoned going to church there.  Years which happened to coincide with my last two years of seminary.)
Someone commented afterward about the Scriptural and music selections.  "That service was really all about Josh," I remarked.  "I know," she said quietly.
Some of my favorite moments, chosen randomly:
The rehearsal of communion the day before, with my own pastor trying so hard to help me remember the order ~ a hopeless task, given the condition of my short term memory.  A year and one-half later, I still struggle.  (And it was to turn out that I would mess up the easiest part of all.  The part we didn't practice.)
My daughter singing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" as a prelude in memory of her brother.
The readings, done by friends who are Jewish, Catholic, and Presbyterian.
The sermon by my professor, which was really, honestly, a great sermon.  I've listened to it dozens of times, and each time I find something different to like, in the structure or in the theology or in an individual word here or there.  I've heard some other ordination sermons which have been primarily about the person being ordained.  This one was about Jesus.  Although perhaps about me, too, but you would have to have been listening carefully to what I had been saying for the past couple of years about death and loss and grief and hope to know that. 
Rilke making his way into the charge delivered by my own pastor.
The choir singing "These Alone Are Enough" as one of the communion hymns, and then the entire congregation joining in one of our church favorites, "Allelulia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Living God."  The sanctuary was filled with the sound; absolutely beautiful.
Celebrating communion and serving the bread to each and every person who wished to be served. There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs.  It probably took awhile.  And there was Josh.  Later a friend said, "I saw you touch your hand to your heart when CH spoke to you as she received communion."  "Oh," I said, "I had called her frantically a couple of weeks before when I realized I had never had a pendant made for some ashes.  A friend had designed and made one for her after her son died, but there wasn't enough time for me to get something similar done, and she had some other ideas.  So she asked, and I was telling her that I had found a locket, which was under my robe.  So Josh was physically there, where I needed him to be."
Later, (another) Jewish friend said, "That was an incredible service.  I actually thought to myself, 'If I were ever going to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, this would be the night.' "
That moment of laying on of hands is pretty wonderful; a definite Moment.  But for me, the real joy lay in watching all those faces of beloved friends and family as they listened and prayed and sang and came forward for communion.  I kept gazing across the congregation, trying to solidify the memory of what I was seeing.  Friends from St. Louis and Philadelphia as well as from down the block.  Friends from seminary and spiritual direction classes. My spiritual director.  Nuns from my childhood.  Family members who probably haven't been inside a church for decades, other than for weddings and funerals. Members of my home church and members of my new church.
They were all so beautiful.  All part of a celebration in the midst of Everything Else.


  1. Again I reflect that this was a Spirit blessed day. Thank you for sharing your memories and special moments

  2. Oh, Robin-- thank you so much for taking the time to reflect on all this. It does, indeed, sound like an occasion of grace and beauty!

  3. Upon reflection your day of Ordination shines even brighter. If that's possible. :)

    Thank you for this!

  4. Robin, on reading your beautiful reflection of that special day of ordination, I felt I was there and pictured you at the front totally surrounded by love. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. I can still see the moments you described here. And glowing a little brighter inside from my own recollections of that meaningful day and evening.

  6. Congrats on your ordination! I did not grow up in a very religious environment. But a few years ago I was lucky enough to find God. Surprisingly enough, I am now a happy ordained minister, and have no regrets about it. My life has forever changed thanks to my friends at the Universal Life Church. Because of my ordainment I was able to marry two of my closest friends last summer!