Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Anniversary Day. . .

On a blistering hot summer afternoon, in a white clapboard building in a corn field on the plains of Nebraska, a full church gathered to set apart a young man for the Office of the Holy Ministry.  A son of the congregation was the guest preacher and a classmate of the young man to be ordained was part of the assembled clergy.  At the appropriate moment, the young man vested in a white alb and cincture knelt before the bishop as he said:

    I ordain and consecrate thee a minister of Christ’s holy catholic church....

The congregation presented the vestments to accompany the office – a red chasuble and stole (the money for these a gift of the congregation and the sewing the gift of his beloved wife).  Wearing the yoke of his office, he pronounced his first benediction as a Pastor of the Church and then all went downstairs to eat (as we always do when something is celebrated in the life of the Church).

Some of the folks present had known this young man since his birth.  Some had held him in his arms.  Others had known him more recently.  A few met him for the first time that afternoon.  But it was the culmination of many years of his education as well as the encouragement and support of a people who had seen a number of their young people seek full-time service to the Lord in His Church.  This parish had supported this young man with money for his education, with prayers for him in the journey to this moment, and with a willingness to listen to the first, rough sermons.  There were many gifts given at this ordination and one particular is still unforgettable -- a quilt with twelve panels of embroidered with scenes from the Gospel (rest in peace, Mathilda). 

That young man would leave the little prairie church and head a thousand more miles away to the Catskill Mountains of New York where he would be set apart again into a particular parish.  In his installation to serve a parish that had waited two years for a Pastor, a full congregation came out to see what kind of Pastor God was giving them. Walking out in the woods before the service, the bishop had brought in an old pine branch, stripped it of its bark, and handed it to the young man saying:

    Shepherd the flock of God which the Holy Spirit has placed under your care...
And so began the ministry of but one of so many Pastors who were set apart in 1980 by Word and prayer and given responsibility to exercise the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments for the care and building up of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ committed to them.  This one was named Larry Peters and today is the 30th anniversary of the day when hands were laid and an office committed to me.

I can hardly believe it has been so long.  It seems like yesterday.  I still feel like that brash young man who hid his uncertainties and fears with a veneer of confidence.  When I look into a mirror I see him still – impetuous, foolish, bold, and self-assured.  If time has taught me anything it is that I was exactly that – foolish and naive and wanting to run where brave dare only tiptoe.  But God was there in the form of a congregation where my boldness would be well tested, where a faithful bishop would give good counsel, and a forgiving people would allow me the opportunity to learn from my many mistakes.

The world is a very different place since that day so long ago. The challenges have changed with the landscape.  New York became Tennessee.  A small town gave way to a bustling small city.  But God’s Word is forever the same and His grace does not change.  A changeless Christ in a changing world gives us an anchor to hold on to amid the unstoppable pace of change around us.

Each day in my office I look at the ordination certificate signed by Ronald F. Fink, a photo of me kneeling with hands extended, diplomas from the two colleges and one seminary I attended, a crucifix, a carving of the symbol of the office of the keys, and Luther's ordination prayer:

O, Lord God,
    Thou hast made me a pastor and teacher in the Church.
    Thou seest how unfit I am 
       to administer rightly this great and responsible Office;
       and had I been without Thy aid and counsel 
       I would surely have ruined it all long ago.
Therefore, do I invoke Thee.
   How gladly do I desire to yield and consecrate 
      my heart and mouth to this ministry!
      I desire to teach the congregation.
      I, too, desire ever to learn and keep Thy Word 
          my constant companion, and to meditate thereupon earnestly.
   Use me as Thy instrument in Thy service,
      Only do not Thou forsake me,
           for if I am left to myself, 
          I will certainly bring it all to destruction. Amen.

And every day I am reminded of what a privilege I have to serve in the Name of Christ in the Office of Minister of His Word and Sacraments for the benefit and blessing of His people and the upbuilding of His Church in this place.  Within the limitations of my human frailty and sinfulness, I pray God to grant every success, not for me or my glory, but for the glory of His holy Name.  Te Deum Laudamus!


Rev. R Salemink said...

Congrats on your anniversary! I pray you have many more years of joy in serving the Lord!

Sue said...

Happy anniversary! May God continue to guide and bless you on your way.