What does it mean to be a pastor? One of the remarkable people who has regularly ministered to me would not consider herself a pastor — and didn’t, even when she was part of a “pastoral staff.”
That woman — Vicki Swyers — recently passed her clergy robe on to me. It is the robe I preached my very first sermon in. And she blessed me by email: “So, don’t borrow it, but OWN it, until you no longer need it. I hope you’ll have it for a long time.”
She told me that the robe was passed on to her by another woman. A woman who left a tube of chapstick in one of the pockets. A tube of chapstick that remains there, even now — a reminder of someone else’s blessing, of someone else’s ministry. There is a gift in knowing that I am now sharing in the tradition of remarkable women, that I am continuing what others started.
I’ve been thinking about these signs of encouragement a lot this week, perhaps because I don’t often experience much encouragement in ministry.
There is Terrell, who gave me a piece of artwork from his creation series after my first sermon. He has given my name to several churches and checks in with me regularly.
There is Ella, my coworker, who seems to think every ministry oportunity should be mine.
There is my Mother, who may not really know what she thinks of women in ministry, but who has been incredibly supportive of me (on facebook even!).
And there are Robin and Barbara and Evelyn; Kate and Kathy and Keith; Jeanie and Rod and Pam; Virginia and Marsha; Carole and various new friends from twitter; and, of course, my husband, who constantly tries to convince me that I’m “the bestest.”
I imagine I’ll get plenty of opportunity to wear my new robe as I serve as a summer intern at two UCC congregations. Each time, I plan to stick my hand in the pocket and feel the tube of chapstick. I’ll think of Vicki — and of Judy, the previous owner that I have never met. And I will smile, knowing that I am not alone on my journey, but walk alongside great pastors — even if they don’t recognize themselves as such.