Leaning on the everlasting arms


(photo credit: Summerlee Walter)  

The last three days of my life have been spent mostly crying and hugging people. Praying and singing, too. With a good measure of laughter thrown in, and a few glasses of wine. And chocolate cake for breakfast.

This is all because I have just returned from Clergy Conference, the annual gathering of all the priests, deacons, and bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. And this was not a usual conference - it was time to say goodbye to our beloved Bishop Michael Curry, who next month starts the adventure of being the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop. And so there was lots of emotion as we walked down memory lane and also prepared for our own future - as the church, as the diocese, as the people are called by God to be and to serve.

And I noticed as I looked around the room of hundreds of clergy, some of whom I have known for decades, some of whom I just met Monday, how filled with love and gratitude I am for all of them, how much these are my people.

And it must be said we are an odd group - men and women from our 20s to our 80s who really have in common only one thing: following Jesus takes up most of the hours of our days, most of the days of our lives. We are the ones who have volunteered to bear the sacraments and traditions of a religion that is really only encountered hand to hand, voice to voice, side by side. It is our job to pray.

I always think of Harry Potter when I am in rooms with a lot of clergy in them. We live in the world of incantations and ancient buildings and ways of thinking and dressing that are sort of like the categories of the rest of the culture, but just different enough to qualify as another country. We don't wear shirts, we wear clericals. We don't wash our hands, we have ablutions. We don't walk, we process.

And why? All in the service of a great power, all in the insistence that beyond the 'real world', there is a realm where miracles happen, where light defeats darkness, where love reigns. We can pass for normal most days, but our rhythm is slightly different, our vision focused slightly elsewhere. Everything is context for a sermon. Every moment has potential for grace.

Clergy aren't more faithful than others, and we really don't know more about God, or about love, than anyone else. The only thing that makes us different is that we have dedicated our lives to being the conduit of God's love: between people today and those who lived centuries ago; between those who need it and those who seek it; between those whose disparate understandings of it needs a translator. All this connectivity can make us a bit frayed around the edges, can warp our sense of humor, but generally speaking, it makes us pretty open to the wonder of the world.

I saw so much of that these last few days with my fellow clergy. We are so much alike in so many ways: we know the same songs and recite the same prayers and say 'the Lord be with you' when we want the room to hush, because we are certain everyone will shout back, 'and also with you.' We have all seen a lot of pain and a lot of death.

And even though we can be like high school sometimes, avoiding someone's table or rolling our eyes at another's pet project or perceived lack of rigorous theology, we do that as those who know each other so well, who have each other's backs, who will lay hands on each other's caskets. It is a mysterious, magnificent club to belong to, and I give thanks for my membership every day.