At 7:30am on Saturday, November 12th, I was changing my blazer for the third time, juggling coffee, and the myriad of thoughts and emotions going through my head. I got into my car and started down the road toward Weimar, Texas, where I was scheduled to have my Ecclesiastical Council later that morning. An Ecclesiastical Council is the final step before being approved for ordination, and on this morning leading up to mine, I had no idea what to expect, or what to do with everything I was feeling other than to just be. I mentioned throughout the process leading up to my EC (and later when I introduced myself to the council) that I imagined we would be sitting in a dimly lit room with flickering sconces on the wall while wearing ornate cloaks. Alas, that was not the case. What I found instead were the faces of people who love me, who have supported me, guided me, and challenged me in ways that helped me grow.
Leading up to my Ecclesiastical Council, I was asked to prepare a paper that discussed my personal and spiritual journey, my understanding of UCC polity and history, and a statement of a call. What it turned into was 23 pages of some of the most vulnerable writing I have ever allowed other people to read, let alone complete strangers. But I kept reminding myself that all we can really do is tell the truth and trust that we are loved. When my EC began, I was introduced by my fantastic mentor, Dan De Leon, before providing my own opening statement. I will share with you some of what I said:
“I’m standing here today as myself in this moment, and all the parts of me that have been on the journey to this day… So much is different and continues to be different. I seem to think that I have a pretty good idea of where I’m going, but then like a seed caught in the wind, I instead grow in the most unexpected places… In February of 2018, I received a call telling me that I had been accepted into Brite Divinity School, and that particular day in February was the one-year anniversary of when I tried to end my life. And I felt a lot that day, a holy tension, and a grace that I didn’t know how to accept. This gracious ambiguity of an audacious thought that my life could be worth something after I was so sure that I had nothing left to offer. And that is a divine truth that contradicts all of the hurt we inherit from the world…
I can tell you that this journey since then has involved just as much unlearning as learning. And while I have grown, just like every seed, I had to break open first. And like every seedling, I have flourished by the grace of those who have nurtured me. And when I have produced bad fruit, I have been so lovingly pruned, and reminded that putting the parts of ourselves that have caused harm into the fire is not to destroy us, but to remember that fire brings forth new life. When I started seminary, I wanted to become a chaplain in behavioral health settings because that was familiar. I have always found those spaces to be a place where outsiders bond over bad coffee, and the peace that is found while joining at the table with people who do not have to hide if they are feeling at their absolute worst, because we’re all feeling together. Somehow that felt easier, because I didn’t quite know how to reconcile all of the doubts I felt about myself inside a church. Because how could the church possibly be a place where imperfect and hurting people can bond over bad coffee, and join at the table without fear that any part of themselves might be turned away? Like a seed caught in the wind, I found myself planted in such a church, and my roots are tangled around these people who share in this covenant with me… We often may feel that our call is to seek something, when sometimes our call is to be still and listen without the assurance of an answer. I’m listening on this indefinite and imperfect journey with my community as we dismantle that which separates us from each other, so that we might grow into the harmony and wholeness which God claimed and called good at the moment of our beginning. Thanks be to God.”
After I offered my opening statement, those present for the council were invited to ask me questions (Cue me hiding my terrified face). But they were great questions, often accompanied by words of affirmation, questions such as “How do you understand the word ‘queer’ theologically?” “How will you take care of yourself throughout the ministry?” and “Who is Jesus?” Following these questions, I was excused while the council voted whether to approve me for ordination. This was the point where I just did a lot of deep breathing while my friend Ludy sat with me. I was later invited back into the space where the council was gathered, and I was so lovingly welcomed with the news that I had been approved. In the days that have followed, I have felt surrounded by the warmth of the love that got me to this place. I am so grateful for those who were present with me in person, online, and in spirit. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.