Sunday, February 18, 2018
Lent 3: Greenfire, Winter 1996, Part 2
I almost canceled this. Or rather, I almost decided to delay it, because I find myself home with the flu.
But I find want to write about Greenfire again today because I feel a little extra vulnerable, and not run away from it.
Important things happened to me at Greenfire, things that affected me going forward professionally and personally. A lot of the professional "aha's" and holy moments have become things I talk about comfortably (chatterbox, see last entry). But the personal ones I have mostly-- though not exclusively--written about anonymously.
So, I'm delving into tender territory, and I'm doing it while I'm sick, and that may not be the best plan, but it's my plan today.
Since I decided to write about Greenfire I've had a hard time stopping thinking about it. I've Googled it to see what virtual memories remain of it, and I've been startled to see some of those familiar faces—though, don't misunderstand, even though important things happened for me personally there, I would not be surprised to learn that I did not leave much of a mark there. I doubt any of the Greenfire women would remember me.
One of the features that distinguished Greenfire was that a guest could choose as much or as little silence as she wanted. She could seek a consultation with the women there in the form of what they called a "circle conversation." It was really very simple in concept: they used a form of communication, support, consultation, and discovery that is already pretty much built into most women's lives. We gather for breakfast. We meet for coffee. We have people over, and together, in circles of friends, we work things out. We dream aloud. We wonder what's next. We commiserate over what's hard. Sometimes we rescue each other, but we rarely call it "rescue." We don't think of ourselves as heroes. We are there for each other.
I decided to have a circle conversation around my desire to be ordained. At the time I was working in an Episcopal congregation, and I was a member there as well. There were things about the work I truly loved and there were things that were very, very hard. But I had come out of the Roman Catholic tradition, and I had been very convinced that I wanted to seek ordination in the Episcopal church. I wanted to be a priest.
But I had done some searching and interviewing-- informational interviews-- with ordained women in my area, women of different denominations. And in one of those conversations, a woman (who remains a really good friend to this day) said, "You're not Episcopalian. You're Presbyterian."
Now, she had based this on our conversation. On things I said about my understanding of ministry. On my unsettled questions about Catholic ecclesiology, the shape of the church, the nature of the connections between congregation and pastor, between bishop and congregation. On how I envisioned myself in ministry.
"No, I'm not. I'm really comfortable in the Episcopal church," I had protested.
She shrugged. "You heard it here first. Someday you'll remind me of that. You're Presbyterian."
At Greenfire I was still wrestling with this question. "What," I asked the two women in my circle conversation, "is priesthood?"
I'm sure this conversation went on for quite some time, but I remember only one thing that was said, and it was a single sentence in answer to that question.
"A priest creates or holds open a space for the holy, and resists the temptation of filling it herself."
I have probably not spent enough time in the past 20 or so years wrestling with that statement, though I think I am mostly aware of those moments when I succumb to that temptation (I call it "The Patty Show”). I believe it is probably the call of the Presbyterian minister as much as it is of the priest. (Had I mentioned.... I am Presbyterian?) It remains a stark and tantalizing suggestion, one I'm sure I fall short of more than I live into. In this year in which I'll celebrate the 15th anniversary of my ordination, I feel more drawn to it than ever.