A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
The 20th Anniversary Sermon of The Rev. Deven Hubert
Delivered at the Renewal of Ordination Vow Service
The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
April 11, 2006
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
On February 28, I went by Diocesan House. It was a virtual revolving door of clergy manually dropping off their parochial reports. I, of course, being one of them!
Bishop McKelvey asked me that day if I would be willing to give one of the sermons today on,"What my ordination means to me". This December I will have been ordained a priest for 20 years so, I was excited about the idea of reflecting on what it means to me to be a priest at this point in my life.
I need to tell you right off, that I love the writer Anne LaMott. I love Anne - she tells it exactly as she sees it. Sometimes her language is rather colorful. She's one of those people I'd like to be when I grow up, but without the blond dreadlocks. Actually though, she's not too many years older than me and we're both single parents raising sons, but I have a daughter in college thrown in for good measure. Occasionally, I quote Anne Lamott in my sermons, but I feel I have to censor her a bit to keep from losing my job. Today I want to talk to you frankly about ministry, so, I'll say a few things that I wouldn't say in a regular sermon, but I think that this crowd can handle it.
Sometimes weird stuff happens in ministry. If you are in this business long enough some really weird stuff will come your way. Some of it may even be a little scary. I remember one day, when I was working at my first Church, an attractive, well-dressed woman came in my office and told me that she was the mistress of the then governor of West Virginia. She told me, though, that I was trying to steal him away from her and I that I had better just stop it and leave him alone. I remember trying to keep a straight, active listening face and stay calm, while inside, I'm thinking to myself, "I've never even MET Jay Rockefeller kids...never mind Sharon and the kids!! Good, Lord!" A follow up threatening note or two was left on the rectory door. I found out that she was schizophrenic. She usually went to another Episcopal Church in town and rumor had it that she sometimes carried a gun in her purse. She was in and out of the hospital. She was one of those folks, sadly, who fell through the cracks of the mental health system. Eventually, I guess, she forgot about me.
The latest new unfortunate invention I've found in parish ministry is the email bomb. Kaboom!
Ever get hit by one of those? I have to admit that I think about what I would like to zap right back!
Bishops, I'm sure, hear so much in their ministries and see so much in their ministries they must have to take a special course, Episcopate Poker Face and Self-Composure 401... And yet God holds us through all these moments.
Sometimes ministry is just plain hard ... We get bogged down in paperwork or frustrated by the feeling of having too much to do. There is never enough time to do everything we think we should do. Sometimes we may even wonder if it's all worth it...
And then something will happen... … I go to to take communion to a parishioner in the nursing home. He's not there. The receptionist isn't supposed to tell me where he's gone because of the HIPPA laws, but she whispers that he's been taken to the hospital and she tells me which one.
Since I'm a female priest, I stop and ask directions… I go to the hospital, though, and find that my parishioner has had another devastating stroke and is on life support. I meet his daughters - one is there when I get there. The next day the other arrives from out of town. Other family members congregate. We spend hours together talking and praying and waiting and watching. Eventually, he's declared brain dead. They're told that he is a candidate for organ donation.
They're interested and think that he might have wanted that, but their problem is with the process. He would have to be certified as brain dead several times over the course of hours before his liver could be harvested because of the protocols involved. They want to be with him at the end. It's hard to think of leaving him with air still going into his body, but they don't know how much more they can stand to be there. They want to be with him at some kind of end, but they're so exhausted. How can they leave him while he's on machines keeping his body going - but they're so exhausted. And finally we come on an idea - we can say prayers, we can do the liturgy at the time of death because he has, in fact, died, but when everything is over and the liver has been harvested, I can come back and bless the body. So we do that. We say prayers.
They kiss him and hug one another and say their goodbyes.
The next morning I get a call that the procedure is over and I can come back and bless the body.
I drive in the morning sunlight to the hospital.
They bring his body out and let me go into the morgue - And I bless this body - broken - and given - and I am in this most unlikely sanctuary. And I realize what a priviledge it is, what a humbling honor to be invited into such a holy place. And as priests and deacons we get to do that - we get to enter into such holy spaces.
And often it happens when we are interrupted. The call that we get in the night that gets us dressed and out the door. The untimely visitor that drops by the Church office. Henri Nouwen wrote that we find God often in the interruptions.
As I reflect on my own ordination today, I reflect on what it means to be ordained, but I can't help but reflect on what it means to me to be ordained in this particular Church. One of the things that I never expected when I was ordained, was that I would eventually be a divorced priest.
I met my former husband in a police van after having been arrested for holding a prayer vigil blocking a gate that led to the christening of a Trident submarine in Groton, Ct. We were charged with "disorderly conduct". Some people got "disturbing the peace." (The charges were eventually dropped, so it probably didn't show up on my background check!)
We were both very involved in the nuclear disarmament movement in the late 70's early 80's. We were fellow seminarians at Yale Divinity School. We had so much in common - faith, spirituality, politics, laughter, and, of course, above all love - Eventually we married and we were both Episcopal priests. But one day, after we had been married for a good many years, he told me that he wasn't sure of his sexual orientation.
And I was just blown away…but on another level it made sense. And I remember thinking… I'm from Wisconsin! I'm just an ordinary married person. How did this get to be my life? And I remember at the time feeling that I couldn't tell my bishop because I wasn't sure where it was going to go - was he straight, was he bisexual, was he gay? We got into therapy separately and together. I had to let him figure it out and I didn't know where it was going. I talked to some friends about it at the time - but not my bishop and not my Episcopal colleagues. And I remember such a sense of isolation. After years of therapy and discernment we separated in 1999 and our divorce was finalized in 2001. My former husband is now an openly gay priest in another diocese. We have a very good relationship. We are totally open with our kids about his being gay. He'll be a delegate at the next General Convention. We continue to support each ther in ministry. My daughter will arrive at her dad's for a visit on Good Friday. So that we get to see her, too, my son and I will drive there on Sunday after services and, with some other close friends, we'll all have Easter dinner.
I am so proud to be ordained in this Church. For me General Convention's affirming Gene Robinson's consecration also affirmed my life story. I cannot tell you what it meant to me. When I heard that his former wife wrote a letter in support of his consecration and one of his daughters was at General Convention supporting him - I totally got it - because my family is a lot like theirs.
I think that the consecration of Gene Robinson and the decisions made in relation to same sex unions will be events that the Church will have to look back on years from now to see how great of an impact they will have had. A lot of the impact that those events will have we may never know.
Because of those events -
The events of General Convention affirm the lives of gay people but they also affirm the experiences of parents and brothers and sisters and former spouses and children of gay people.
I am so proud to be able to raise my son and daughter in this Church. And I guess sometimes,
I feel that there is a particular reason that I am ordained at this time, at this point in history, in the life of this Church and our society.
We will have challenging days ahead...dealing with the case at All Saints' Church, Irondequoit, in our own Diocese and other situations elsewhere, but when I think of that I remember that my first Church had a devastating fire and it looked like it would burn down and eventually most of it did, but there was a point in that fire when it was under control enough that the firefighters thought that it was safe for me to go in with one of them for about five minutes or so and get out anything that I could that was really important. And I knew that the fire started in the sacristy so, the chalices were gone and the patens were melted, but I did remember learning somewhere in seminary that if you can get nothing else out from a Church you save the Church records. And I remembered the records in that Church with the beautiful quill and ink script written by a priest in the 1800's with penmanship far finer than mine recording the baptisms, and the deaths, and the marriages, and the times the people gathered in that place. So, they got a fireman's coat on me and put a hat my head ( and I was scared shitless) but we went in for those records- because they were a part of salvation history and in the Episcopal Church they're that important and it's just what we do. And it's that important now.
And at that Church with the fire, we did get out those records. And the phoenix rose out of the ashes. We rebuilt that Church incorporating some of the old, but with a design that better served its ministry in that community - all on one level and handicapped accessible.
In two days it will be Maundy Thursday and I'll get to stand in a sanctuary yet again and raise up that host and break it - Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us - Therefore let us keep the Feast. That altar will be stripped bare and I'll sit with others in a dark, stark Church and watch and wait.
And then Easter will come and we will celebrate! I do believe in death. And I do believe in Resurrection. I remember those Isaiah words, "Here am I, send me!" from that service December 21 Advent IV nearly twenty years ago… And I hope for the privilege of another twenty more.
Please sign my guestbook and view it.
Statistics courtesy of