My own spiritual explorations have been all over the map: I’ve toyed with Catholicism, Unitarianism, Mormonism, Judaism, Shinto, Islám, and even the Bahá’i Faith. Even though I am a "cradle Episcopalian" — born, baptised, and confirmed in the Episcopal Church — I can’t bring myself to say that the church I identify with is any more "right" than any other faith, nor that any other faith in the world is "wrong" simply because it isn’t mine. Indeed, I identify myself as an Episcopalian for no very good reason at all except that it’s the religion I grew up with. I haven’t been to church in months.
Even so, the idea of entering the clergy has entered my head from time to time. The last time I seriously thought about becoming a priest or even a monk was probably close to five or six years ago (or longer), but that time has passed, and I’m certain now that that’s not where I am called to be. And yet, I can’t help but feel a little bit of awe for those people who are called to ministry in their own faith.
Last Saturday, I accompanied Jennifer to the Northern California/Nevada Methodist Convention in Sacramento, because her mother was to be consecrated as a diaconal minister in the Methodist church. Now, I don’t pretend to understand anything about the hierarchy of the Methodist Church, any more than I understand the hierarchy of any other church (even the Episcopalian church!); but I know that this is an important honor for Jennifer’s mother. I was glad to have been invited to the ceremony, to provide support as her "son-in-law-in-training".
Being in the same convention hall with thousands of people who share a common faith is a memorable experience. I seem to recall looking out over the throngs and muttering to myself, "Wow, look at all these Methodists!" I’ve attended Easter Mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and I’m not sure there were as many people there as there were at the Sacramento Convention Center for the Methodist conference. Jennifer led me over to sit with some friends of her family’s from the Roseville church that they had once attended; and we were soon joined by one of her sisters, and her sister’s in-laws, who immediately began to tease me; "Are you sure you know just what kind of family you’re marrying into?" they asked me. I looked over at Jennifer, who was making some sort of silly face at the moment; and over at her sister, who, with her husband, was making google-eyes at their 2-year old son; and I replied, "You might have a point…"
The ceremony began. I had been entrusted with Jennifer’s mother’s camera, and as she and the other candidates for consecration processed into the convention center and past the crowds and on to the stage, I took as many photographs as I could. Jennifer’s mother had a huge smile on her face (not an unusual thing, and, thankfully, a trait that Jennifer has inherited from her), and her husband, who was walking beside her, was beaming as well, in his own stoic way. During the consecration itself — which also involved Episcopalian bishop Jerry Lamb — I kept on eye on Jennifer’s mother, and on Jennifer herself. The look of pride on Jennifer’s face was powerful, as was the look of joy on her mother’s.
After the ceremony, Jennifer and I joined her parents for a late dinner at Baker’s Square. We had a lot of fun, made silly jokes, and laughed a lot. At times, I think our waitress was completely frazzled by our table.
So I’m pretty sure now that I know just what kind of family I’m marrying into. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. And now that I’ll be marrying a minister’s daughter, I suppose there’s some extra pressure on me.
Heh. I guess we’ll see.