Letter from Liz and Amy: June 22, 2021
Ordination Saturday is coming!
Last week Katie shared some of her story as she prepares for ordination to the priesthood. This week Amy, our beloved executive pastor, shares her story as she prepares to be ordained as a transitional deacon on Saturday, June 26 at 5pm (outside under the canopies or on Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81387268997) - Liz
I’ve been in the ordination process for 5 years, but my journey to this point stretches back to a sense of calling that began nearly 20 years ago (you may have heard me say that I’m a slow processor; here’s the evidence). When Trent and I were newly married, we took a six-month trip around Africa, exploring the possibility of working overseas. This was 2004: the Darfur conflict was escalating in Sudan, and the continent was marking the ten year anniversary of both the Rwandan genocide and the end of apartheid, as I mentioned in Sunday’s sermon. We visited all of these places—Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan—and many others. (Our daughter Nadia is actually named after a child whose story we learned in the Rwanda genocide memorial.)
That trip put us face to face with human suffering on a scale we had never encountered. It also introduced us to Christians whose experience of God and vision for his kingdom was much bigger than ours. Near the conclusion of our trip came the clearest sense of calling I have ever experienced. We were living in a 1970s camper on a farm overlooking Cape Town, South Africa, working in a recovery ministry for teenage drug addicts from nearby townships. (I mentioned these townships on Sunday; one of the many tragedies uncovered by the TRC was a government program to introduce street drugs in the townships. By 2004, addiction was rampant.)
Late one night in our little camper, I was reading my bible by flashlight (because camper = no electricity! Ask me sometime for the stories…) when I encountered these words from Hosea: “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” (Hos 11:1-4)
I was floored by this picture of God: stooping, bending, allowing his compassion to be stirred by his children. In that moment, I felt more aware of the depths of God’s love than I ever had before; a tender, unconditional love that required nothing of me, only invited me to receive it like a child. I set down my flashlight, covered my face, and prayed.
When I finally lifted my eyes, I noticed that the beam from my flashlight had settled on the cover of that that week’s The Economist, illuminating the cover photo of a family of Darfur refugees. As I looked at the refugees’ dusty faces, I experienced a moment of clarity akin to the voice of God. If I had received such love from God—this stooping, parental love—how could I possibly keep it to myself, especially in light of the tremendous hurt in the world? I knew that God was drawing me “with gentle cords” to be a minister of his love in places of pain. It was a holy moment in a humble place, and it planted a seed that would one day grow into my pursuing ordination.
That was nearly 20 years ago. The years since have brought many changes and challenges, and I’ve sometimes strayed from this vision of love. But God has consistently drawn me back to this sense of call in my life, refreshing and deepening and refining it.
When Nadia was born in 2007, I left my job in an international NGO to stay home with her (I was approaching burnout, and the timing seemed right). Suddenly, I was no longer ascending the ranks or traveling the world. I was homebound, meeting the basic needs of a helpless infant, performing endless repetitive tasks. During this time the Anglican liturgy grew in importance for me, becoming my lifeline to God. Late at night, when I was exhausted and desperate and unable to soothe a colicky baby, I wanted to pray but had no words. I found my prayers in fragments of the liturgy lodged in my brain. God met me in those late nights, gently parenting me as I parented my daughter, retelling me the story of his love in the words of the liturgy. I felt emptied, yet filled.
Motherhood proved a healing vocation for me. It slowed me down and reconnected me to the simple rhythms I’d found so nourishing on the South African farm years before: rising with the sun, working, singing, creating, reading, praying, resting. Those peaceful days at home proved a fertile ground for contemplative spiritual disciplines and Anglican rhythms of prayer. I soon noticed that my children were training me in habits of wonder and attentiveness, teaching me what it looked like to live as a loved child.
Over a decade of caregiving, God began to draw me again toward ministry, refining my sense of calling through the liturgies of the home (I love that Katie’s story includes a similar path). I served in numerous volunteer roles at church, and people began encouraging me toward formal ministry. After more than a year of personal contemplation and a lot of self-doubt, I finally timidly approached Liz—another South African thread in my story!—and managed to squeak out the words that I might be curious about exploring ordination.
Well, you all know Liz, and you can probably imagine her response was OVERWHELMINGLY ENTHUSIASTIC (to put it mildly). She organized a parish discernment team for me—the first step in the ordination process is to bare your soul to a small group of people who listen and pray on your behalf—and five years later, here I am. Over these five years, I’ve been given opportunities through Restoration and Incarnation to preach, lead, pastor, and church plant, learning more about myself and strengthening my sense of call along the way.
I’m excited, humbled, preemptively sweaty (it will be hot!), and filled with hope as I approach my ordination on Saturday. Most of all, I’m grateful to all of you at Incarnation, a parish that embodies God’s love for hurting people in so many ways. I might be getting a clergy collar, but we are all a royal priesthood together, the hands and feet of Christ and the bearers of his kingdom here in South Arlington. It’s one of the great gifts of my life to be one of your pastors and to be ordained in your midst.