I had a moment yesterday… a moment of runaway imagination in the midst of reading one of many PC(USA) ordination exams as a first-time reader.
As I sat digging through the pages and pages of words, sometimes trying to discern any semblance of an answer that made sense, renewing my own familiarity with the Directory for Worship (for, not of) and the Book of Confession, clicking and selecting S and U (S, S, S, so S… U, S, S, so S… S, U, U, so U, U, U, so U), then printing and affixing my signature to evaluation sheets, I had a moment of wondering whether I should have made up a fake name, something really American, really run-of-the mill, something maybe even a little… forgettable, maybe Jennifer or Jill or maybe even Jane, something that wouldn’t stick in people’s minds.
Given the small PC(USA) world, I wondered whether unbeknownst to me, I would meet someone whose exam I had evaluated. Unknown to me because I evaluated numbered exams. Known to him/her because I write and sign my name
boldly at the bottom of a green evaluation sheet for Worship and Sacraments. My name is unusual. It sticks out.
And I wondered what would happen if I met this imaginary person. ‘Would he remember my name?’ ‘If she didn’t pass, would she punch me?’ Having sat with friends who were angry with the comments they received, ‘Would he tell me I ruined his life?’ ‘Would she tell me she dropped out of the ordination process because it was all too much this process, this evaluation, this timed exam?’ My runaway imagination made me want to run and hide with a made-up name or initials and made me feel awkward about an encounter that may never happen.
It’s a strange thing we do as a connectional church, gathering together to silently work side by side for two-and-a-half days, never seeing the light of day, breaking only for meals, reading the timed, stress-filled, and hopeful work of those whose names we do not know, writing comments about their responses, and communicating with unknown CPM’s, all in the name of preparation for ministry.
We are assured by the conveners that we do not fail anybody. “The failing answer was already there when they hit print,” we are reminded. This is true, and it is also true that I tried to be as pastoral and thorough as I could in my comments. But this is also true: for some, their ability or inability to articulate and reason and remember on an ordination exam keeps them from taking up or continuing the call from God that they are sure they have heard. For many, this is devastating, especially if they have been taking and retaking these exams for what seems like forever, especially when the Committee on Preparation for Ministry has passed them along this far.
As I stepped into the shower this morning to prepare for the last day of reading, I threw my eco-consciousness to the wind and turned on the double shower head, and was instantly drenched and warmed by the water. Fittingly, this reminded me of Question #3B on the Worship and Sacraments exam, required response 1: articulate a Reformed understanding of Baptism using your knowledge of the Directory for Worship.
Baptism, especially infant baptism, is a sign and symbol of God’s prior claiming of us, of God’s grace for and covenant with us, before we are able to respond in faith. Baptism is a sign and seal that we are incorporated into Christ Jesus and into his Body. This Body, individually and as a community, dies to what separates us from God and from one another and is raised to new life in Christ, a life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to be one of service and of being “an inclusive worshiping community sharing life in which love, justice, and mercy abound.” The God who calls us into this life – this sovereign, triune God who has willed and enacted God’s sovereign good will and love for us, and apart from whom, we proclaim in worship, nothing was, is, or will be – is the one who calls particular people into particular ministries.
And this God will make a way, whether through comments to CPM that encourage conversation and exploration that brings forth deeper understanding and insight, through mentors and liaisons and friends, or CPM who offer encouragement to stay the course, a different way to be examined, or courageous redirection to find a new path, or through some other way that I cannot envision. The way will be made for each of us and all of us to live fully into our call for that particular time and particular place.
So, with the warm waters from a double-headed shower reminding me of God’s grace and mercy and calling me to remember my baptism and to remember who it is that I worship and serve, I finished out my call to be a small part of the connectional church that helps prepare people towards service in what I/we hope is ever-becoming an inclusive worshiping community that abounds in love, justice, and mercy. I stepped out trusting in the sovereign triune God whom alone we worship and serve.
In life and in death we belong to God.
Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit,
we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel,
whom alone we worship and serve.
– A Brief Statement of Faith – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)
Sometimes, Sabbath is a double shower head that calls us to remember our baptism.