September 3, 2017, was my last Sunday as a member of the pastoral staff of the First Baptist Church, West Hartford, CT. That day, as I ended my three years of ministry among them, the congregation presented me with an incredible white stole that was handmade by a wonderful church member named Sherry. There are three significant pieces of imagery on my new stole. There is the word “Joy” which the congregation thought was the word that most exemplified my spirit. There is also a cross to represent my deep faith in Jesus Christ. Finally, there is the rainbow to represent my commitment to inclusion and diversity in the Body of Christ. I feel so honored, and I absolutely love it, not just for its beauty, but because of what it represents.
A stole is a liturgical vestment worn by members of the clergy. It means something slightly different in each Christian tradition, but in Protestantism, it usually is a sign of the ordination to the ministry of preaching, teaching, and administering the sacraments. In the tradition of my childhood, pastors usually wore a suit or dress for Sunday morning worship and only wore a clerical robe and stole for ordinations and funerals, but at First Baptist, it was our custom to wear robes throughout the liturgical year. In my context, the stole represented that I had taken up the prophetic mantle and that the congregation accepted my presence in their midst as prophet and priest.
The stole is more than a symbol. It is a sign of responsibility. It is a sign that I surrender my life to the cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This call is about so much more than preaching. It is a way of life. It is a call to serve my world in all that I do. The call to Christian ministry requires a few things of the pastor. They must boldly proclaim that now is the time for repentance (change). They must disciple their congregation (teach those who are willing to sacrifice for the cause of Christ). And, most of all, they must demonstrate the radical love of Jesus Christ. Taking up the prophetic mantle is one of the most awesome and humbling things that one could do in their life. It is also challenging work that is made more challenging for those whom God has called, but The Church has traditionally deemed unfit because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. For these preachers, stepping into the pulpit as prophet and priest is a prophetic act before a single word passes through our lips.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the act of proclaiming the Gospel has been hard work. It requires the preacher to speak in alignment with the Kingdom of God in spaces that do not always engage in practices that are aligned with the will of God. To that end, sometimes the preached word can sound controversial, counter-cultural, or even radical. The Good News of Jesus Christ is by definition unsettling. The idea that the One who was sinless became radicalized for the sake of the Kingdom, gave up His life as a sacrifice that humanity might live, defeated death and the grave, and rose again with all power in His hands is a deeply disturbing one.
As one who is not currently in full-time ministry, I think about and pray for my sister and brother preachers daily. We are living in days when it seems everything is politically charged, and the truth is, Jesus was political. God does have politics. So, for even those of us who might want to remain silent on so-called political issues, we have no choice except to be engaged, concerned, and active. For those who are called to speak, sometimes multiple times over the course of a given week, in a nation that is divided against itself, that is a call that is at once exciting and engaging and terrifying.
Preachers have a certain authority, but the congregation has authority too. A congregation must prayerfully be in conversation with the prophet in their midst. Although we are all different people with diverse faith walks, what we share is our belief in One God, One Church, and One Holy Baptism. As the Family of God, what we need now and every day is to pray together that the Holy Spirit will show us the way. As the female, gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender nonconforming, or transgender preacher stands in your midst, living into their authentic truth in the name of Jesus, pray with and for them. Invite the Holy Spirit to join you in fellowship. My fellow Free Agents, now is not the time for fear, for retreating within ourselves, or for hiding from Good News. Jesus has already overcome it all, so let us fling wide every door and window. Despite what we see in front of us, God still reigns, God is still in control, God is still love. Despite it all, how great is our joy!
Thank you for reading this post! I hope it was a source of hope for you in these challenging days. Remember that you can subscribe to my blog to receive an email when I post something new. I will try to be consistent about posting midday on Fridays.