Seven Years of Ordination

 This is one of those weeks.

I have admittedly overcommitted myself to podcast appearances, interviews, webinars and writing assignments related to my book, in addition to this being a heavily busy planning time for the fall year ahead at church (in which we know all our best laid plans will likely be thrown upside down and inside out due to Covid, but we are trying anyway).

Today I had a deadline for another writing assignment, I did my first outdoor visit to a resident at an assisted living facility, complete with 6-foot+ paddle for Holy Communion distribution during Covid, and I also have been busy at work tallying up sermon notes and preparing for a new year of Confirmation: outdoors, masked, and virtual will likely be a part of it all!

In the midst of this busyness, with both of my boys (aged 7 and 4) at home and my engineer husband also attempting to design buildings and conduct meetings from home, life sometimes feels a little crazy.

I'm trying to remember that I always feel this way this time of year, as we prepare for another school year and program year at church, but this year I don't even have the State Fair cheese curds and Dairy Barn malts to get me through.

Lost in the busyness of this time of year is often my realization that another anniversary of ordination has come and gone. I celebrated seven official years as an ordained Lutheran pastor yesterday. So today, I wanted to look back at each of those years and share a memory. 

Now one caveat, ordination does not equal ministry years. Many people are never ordained and yet serve extensively as ministers and leaders in the church. I served a year as an intern pastor and a few years as a journalist who wrote about issues of faith in sports before starting seminary. I also spent several months as a chaplain intern before I was ordained. So - ordination doesn't = ministry. But it does give a benchmark to remember each year, and, in the Lutheran Church where I am ordained, ordination begins when a church votes to call you as their pastor! I love that part. Ministry begins with the call not of an institution or a building but with a congregation of people who commit their trust and faith and grace to you as their pastor. I've been unreasonably blessed in that area.

So here we go -- 7 years of ordination memories!

You'll rarely see me in a collar, but I love this photo from my ordination service 10 years ago -- with two of my closest friends from Sunday school growing up! 

2013: I was ordained on Aug. 18, 2013. In December 2013, I flew to the Florida Panhandle to preside over the wedding of Nora and Josh Bridge. Nora was my best friend when I lived in Florida as a sportswriter, and she helped me through those wild transitional years of your early 20s. I loved being able to bless Nora and Josh's wedding and meet her famous Granny Betty. 

2014: My family and I celebrated Christmas in Chicago British-style with our friends from my first-call congregation, Gemma, Chris, Ellen and Joe Batty. Gemma and Chris came to Chicago from England, and Gemma was an amazing asset as I learned "on the job" at a church where the previous pastor had been removed for sexual misconduct. After a tough first year that involved the resignation of the only other church staff member, Gemma became our new church secretary, and her kids always kept me smiling and energized for the work ahead. Her family taught us how to do Christmas crackers, and her kids were always so kind to then-2-year-old Jacob.

2015: Five years ago, I was very pregnant with baby Joshua and was installed as Pastor of Community Life and Discipleship at Messiah Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda, Calif. My friend, Pastor Michael Stoops, came up from L.A. with his wife, Jacqueline, to be a part of the installation service and pray an amazing prayer over my ministry at Messiah. Pastor Bob Mooney and Messiah's whole congregation welcomed our family with open arms and became a place to nurture us as we became a family of four. 

2016: In my role as supervisor of children and family ministries at Messiah, I got to plan an incredible Vacation Bible School with an amazingly talented staff in the summer of 2016. Under the leadership of then-children's ministry director Melanie Cazin, we planned a talent camp-style VBS, complete with skateboarding instructions, coding, and even live animals. Melanie's creativity and energy was so inspiring, as was watching how the rest of the staff team and volunteers at Messiah came together to welcome more than 400 kids to our church campus. I loved seeing the kids grow in faith and in confidence during their time at VBS at Messiah.

2017: After making the difficult choice to leave Messiah and return home to the Midwest to be closer to family, I spent the second half of 2017 without a permanent pastoral position. During this time, I threw myself back writing and journalism, this time with a theological and ministry background. I published my first piece in the Washington Post and signed my first book contract. Even though I dearly missed serving a congregation, God used this time to help me more fully use all my gifts, and share the Gospel with a national audience, who may never set foot in a Lutheran Church.

2018: I had always wanted to serve as a Teaching Pastor in a large church, because this was a role usually reserved for men. In February 2018, I got that opportunity and took a temporary role as Teaching Pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minn. I am especially proud of the work I did that year in crafting a sermon series on mental health, and creating a safe space in the church to talk about topics like anxiety, depression, grief, and addiction.

2019: On Aug. 6, 2019, my first book came out! I spent the end of 2019 traveling around America sharing about my book research, and many of those presentations took place at churches. Even as I took a short break from parish ministry for my book tour, I relished the chance to preach and teach in churches across America. I also appreciated the way my fellow pastors supported me and shared my book with their congregations. I continue to believe the local church is an excellent place to create dialogue and understanding across partisan lines, with the help of Gospel-centered pastors and church leadership.

2020: As 2020 began, I was only one month into my new call as Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Brownton, Minn., about an hour west of my home in Minneapolis. I would say one of my highlights here at Grace is receiving eggs and fresh produce from our congregation's farmers (it's truly a daily treat!) But the memory that I want to share about most is thinking back to those challenging weeks when we were under Stay-at-Home orders, and my husband, Ben, had to leave town to design a Covid emergency hospital facility in Memphis. During this time, I was leading worship from my home office over a livestream. I didn't have musicians or assistant ministers or volunteers to help. It would have felt lonely, except my 7-year-old son Jacob became an integral part of weekly worship. One week, he even decided to sing the words of the Bible reading. In a scary time for all of us, Jacob give me a chance to smile, and I smiled even bigger seeing the way my new church embraced his desire to be a part of church. 

I can't help but smile as I think back on these special memories of seven years of ordained ministry. Being a Pastor is a truly unique and sometimes hard calling, but it is also filled with incredible blessings and incredible people. If you are reading this and you have been any part of my years of ministry, before or after ordination, I want to say thank you. It is an honor to do ministry with you, and as I look to the future of my years of ordination, I cannot predict where Covid will lead us in the rest of 2020, but I do trust the Holy Spirit will be at work amongst us all, carrying the church forward into 2021.

Today at my church office in Brownton, MN


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