Julia Singleton, Commissioning


Julia SingletonBy the Rev. Julia Singleton*

If this sounds like a “Dear Diary” entry, I apologize.  I was asked to write a reflection on the ordination service, and I am now going to invite you into sacred space.

You may have seen me there.  Red hair, white robe, crying my eyes out before the ceremony even started.

Many kind people were coming up to me, offering hugs and support, and asking, “Are you OK?  What’s wrong?”

But I had no words. Only tears.  Have you ever had those moments?  Those Romans 8:26-27 moments when the Spirit intercedes because you have no words?

Now that the moment is over, let me attempt to put the tears into words.

The day before, in clergy session, we were asked what excites us about ministry. I answered that while there are many exciting things about ministry, “humbling” is a better word to describe it.  In what other profession in the world can you pray with a dying member one day and baptize five babies the next?  Then later that same week, preside over the funeral of your church matriarch in the morning, and have the bishop lay hands on you at commissioning in the evening?

I had quite a week. Emotions were already high.  Grief, awe, joy, relief…I felt like I was truly living Wesley’s Covenant Prayer.

I was nervous about the actual service because I don’t like attention. (If you’re asking yourself, “Then why is she a pastor?” you aren’t the first. But you’d be surprised how many pastors are like me.)

When we processed in our bright robes and red stoles from the convention hotel to the church there were people in the streets watching this beautiful witness to God. And there were messages of love, affirmation and challenge written in chalk on the sidewalk.

Then we walked up to the church—the church where I first interviewed with the Board of Ordained Ministry four years before and received a “Not yet” response. This is where I was being commissioned.

A healing was about to occur; I could feel it.  While we were standing at the entrance, waiting to go in, almost everyone around me was singing, “Jesus Loves Me.” That took me back to my Sunday school classes at Juniata Park UMC, and I wondered what that little girl would think of this moment.  I thought of my grandmothers, two great women of faith, who used to sing this song to me, who didn’t get to know that I became a pastor.

Amidst the singing, there was another voice. A man desperately shouting his views on homosexuality. And in the shouting and the singing, I felt the church weeping.

I wept, too. I wept for a church that is so divided, and for her children who are hurting. I held onto the cross necklace my parents had just given me, which belonged to my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and now me–women who all held such different religious and political views and yet shared so much love.

Everyone started hugging me, and I was reminded that I am a beloved child of God. The affirmation I felt was so amazingly overwhelming, all I could do was weep.

In those tears were my joy and grieving, affirmation and pain, nerves and excitement, all housed in one person at one time.  So I wept with abandon. It was my prayer to God.  I cried for everyone who couldn’t be there and for those who were.

When the service started, it was perfect. The Bishop’s sermon was appropriately titled, “Water Works.” The service was so personal, and it had so many pieces of my life-journey interspersed throughout, I knew God was in it all.

I felt God’s presence so fully.  The Holy Spirit’s presence felt almost tangible while my brothers and sisters were being ordained.  It is amazing the bond I feel with my commissioning class even though most of us just met.

God is with us. We are not alone. God is not through with us yet.

Open your hearts and let it all in. You’ll survive it.  Empty yourself and let God fill you completely. The Holy Spirit is alive!

How is it alive in you?

*The Rev. Julia Singleton, a part-time local pastor at Christ UMC in Middletown, was commissioned a Provisional Elder July 17, during Annual Conference, at First UMC Lancaster. We asked her to write about that experience. She serves on the conference Communications Ministry Team.