By Lauren Holder
Photo by Craig Ruttle
In the days preceding my ordination, I felt everything—prepared and unprepared, affirmed and afraid, confident and humbled, joyful and somber. On the one hand, I had been preparing for this day with the help of many mentors and friends for years—God had been shaping me for this vocation since birth. Yet there is forever room for growth and new learning. There is a sense that you will never have all that it takes. That latter part is where the Holy Spirit swoops in moment to moment. It’s what reminds us of our reliance on God when we might otherwise be tempted to rely on ourselves alone.
The morning after my ordination, I was glad to celebrate my first two Eucharists with my Trinity family as well as my family and friends who had traveled to New York for the weekend. During both the 9am and 11:15am services, I paused several times to notice what was going on. Before approaching the altar, I retraced the shape of the cross on the palms of my hands, where Bishop Curry had anointed me just the day before. I noted the presence of the Holy Spirit when touching the bread and the wine during the Thanksgiving and then paused to remember the Real Presence of Jesus in this same food and drink before sharing it with all gathered.
A few days later I ran into the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee at Trinity Institute who asked me how it felt to celebrate the Eucharist. When I told her of my need to pause and remember that the simple bread and wine had become sacramental food and drink, she said, “May you never forget it.”
Indeed many people asked me in the days following my ordination how it felt to be a priest. I mostly responded, “A little the same, a little different.” And that still rings true. I am the same Lauren I have always been. A little quirky, a lover of people, an ambitious perfectionist, a geek, a sinner working to be less critical of myself and others, a wife, an expectant mother, a loud laugher and an even louder sneezer, a child of God. And yet I am changed. As much as I love reading and reflecting on Scripture and prayer, it is now my responsibility to do so. I must remember at all times that I represent the church even as I remain myself, and I must choose my actions and weigh my words accordingly. And while my first vow will forever be to my husband, I have also made vows to the church, my bishop, and any with authority over me. Lifetime vows. On good days and bad, on days I agree and disagree, I have promised to serve the Church with a capital C.
During the ordination, the bishop examines the ordinand: “As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood.…In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.” The bishop then asks, “My sister, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to this priesthood?” The ordinand’s response is, “I believe I am so called.”
I found these words helpful. I believe I am so called. While it is an affirmative statement, it is especially a statement of faith. I believe. Not just “I am” or even “I know” but I believe. No matter how new this vocation is, or how inadequate I may feel some days, I can believe. I can and I do. If I were to get a tattoo, these might be appropriate words to consider: I believe I am so called.
Mandatory retirement for clergy in the Episcopal Church is set at age 72, so I have about 35 years to grow into this vocation. I anticipate the ministries I will be invited into will differ from one season to the next, and I look forward to adjusting to new roles and opportunities and communities as I encounter them—trusting that the words “I believe I am so called” will be the common thread tying it all together.
The Rev. Lauren Holder is Senior Program Officer for Community Engagement for Trinity Wall Street.