In a tunnel, in what seems somehow both like a thousand years ago and yesterday, I began to voice my call. It was a dark, isolating place in which I quietly and timidly voiced the first stirrings of my calling to ministry. Most of the people in my life weren’t comfortable with it, and, to be fair, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it at first, either; I could recount the numerous ways in which these anxieties were similar, but so very different, but it matters little at this point. It was a long winding tunnel in which I was driven not by my own desire to get to a certain point or a certain vocation, but the irrepressible tugging at my heart and mind in this direction; if I could have turned around and walked another, easier path, I probably would have.
Journeying down this tunnel took a persistence that I didn’t know I was capable of, and in many ways it was slow and tedious. It required a vulnerability and grace that I lacked before I began to chip away at this tunnel. Despite fears and anxieties and a hundred other things that made me want to stop, I continued to chip away at this tunnel, and an amazing thing happened along the way.
The first voicing of my call may have been timid and fearful of rejection, but along the way people began to support me, cheering me on from behind while I persistently and determinedly engaged in discernment of my call. Every Sunday, liturgical season, and high holy day brought more voices, more clarity, and rejuvenated strength to continue to chip away at the tunnel and to follow this path. I couldn’t articulate exactly who was supporting this discernment or me following this path, but I knew for sure that there stood behind me a cloud of witnesses attesting to who God made me to be and to who God was calling me to be.
At my ordination two weeks ago, I reached the end of this tunnel, but not the end of discernment, as that will be a lifelong process. The light was shinning through so brightly and I turned around to share my joy and gratitude for all those who stood behind me and upheld me in this process, and I found myself so entirely overwhelmed with this great cloud of witnesses. This great cloud of witnesses was so overwhelming because it wasn’t just one type of person (they were of various ethnicities, sexualities, religions, political affiliations, and socioeconomic positions), it wasn’t just my cheerleaders (my biggest challengers were there too), and it wasn’t just those who have known me since I first voiced my call into the tunnel.
This great cloud of witnesses included the faculty from my first seminary, who walked with me as I began discerning a call in a different tradition. It included my “questioning Catholic” friend who was able to articulate my calling to the priesthood before I could and a Bahai friend who worked with me in the community and asserted again and again my gifts for Christian ministry. It included my family and friends who aren’t able to fully understand this calling, but still show up and make their love known for me abundant. It included seminary classmates who saw the ways in which I was changed by the discernment process into a better Christian and minister, and who continued to come to holy days and ask me questions when a practiced differed from their own. It included members from my sending parish that raised me up. It included friends who are members of the clergy in this or other traditions who understand that following this call is rarely glamorous and waited patiently for me to stop being a hot mess. It included the acquaintances from my past who articulated a sense of pride in me reaching this point in my discernment. It included those members of the parish of my first call, who wait with joy and excitement for my coming and celebrate my journey that has lead me to them.
This great cloud of witnesses is so overwhelming because it is a tangible, visible experience of God’s love for God people through God’s people. I have always felt lucky following this path, even when it was treacherous, because all along the way I have known that not everyone gets to hear the voices of those who love and support them championing them from behind; not everyone gets the chance to discern and follow a call. Thanks be to God for this gift and for the beautiful, overwhelming great cloud of witnesses that has given me perseverance, strength, and love that I did not know before I began discerning this call.