Two years ago today, I was ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church. It was a great night, and it was a hard time. That night, I was surrounded by family, friends, and new parishioners all of whom said warm and supportive things to and about me. That time of life was a time of difficult transition, for the parish I had been called to serve and for my family. I was sure that God was speaking through the people around me to a very deep place within me. I was unsure about what being faithful to that call looked like. And for much of the time since then, the best I could do was simply do the next right thing. In a time like that, I trust that doing the next right thing is enough.
It always is, but sooner or later, we all get to a point where we want a little bigger picture, a sense of a larger trajectory. As the clouds have parted and the storms of the past have started to clear off, I’ve wondered in a larger sense what this priesthood thing is all about. There are lots of ways to be a minister in the world. There are some that I clearly would not be comfortable with, and others that simply don’t appeal. Besides all this, there’s what is driving me from the inside but there’s what is calling me from beyond myself. How do I navigate these various currents?
Sometimes clergy will look to the ones who have gone before, to the saints, for guiding stars by which they orient themselves. One could look to the saint memorialized on the day one was ordained. (God help those ordained on, say, the feast of St. Francis.) So I looked at the church’s calendar for August 9. No saint. At least there’s not some medieval European who we choose to remember on the day he died. For two years, I had been so focused on the issues closest to me that I had not thought about Michael Brown.
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed on the street in Ferguson, Missouri. We had just arrived in Austin where I would soon begin seminary. In the days that followed the shooting, I unpacked our belongings in our new house as the news covered ongoing unrest in Ferguson. The stories I was hearing made me wonder why I was in Texas and not in Missouri. What possible difference would it make to the world that I was in seminary?
Now, five years later, as I reflect on that time, it seems like a gift to have the anniversary of my ordination fall on the same day we remember Michael Brown. His death exposed deep crevices in the surface of a society that we had tried to plaster over for so long, Part of what I feel strongly called to do is bear witness to the truth of our brokenness, because we don’t have any hope of setting right what we can’t acknowledge is wrong. And it is also my job to bring the word that we are not without hope, that whether or not we are able to fully repair the breaches between us, to do this work is to experience our own redemption.
Today I listened again to the talk that Rev. Kimberly Jackson gave at the Seminary of the Southwest during my senior year. As much as her words continue to inspire me, the witness of her joy in being a part of the work inspired me as well. I still don’t fully know what being a priest means in a world where Michael Brown continues to die, but I feel like it’s the right question to keep asking.