They started yesterday: this dreaded multi-day test called the General Ordination Exam. Seminarians throughout the Episcopal Church are spending the next few days answering essay questions of up to 1,500 words apiece about Church History, Liturgy, the Holy Scriptures, Contemporary Society and the what not.
Those who have been through this academic hazing ritual are offering advice, their best wishes and wisdom to those who are coming down from Christmas-cookie sugar highs to put their best efforts on paper. One person helpfully listed the books that one should have on hand as they go about the open-book portion of the test. When I saw their recommendations, I gulped.
I own, and have studied to one degree or another, at least half of what was on the list. My 1979 Book of Common Prayer is tattered and taped together, dog-eared pages and marked with ribbons; my 1982 Hymnal has pieces of paper carefully tucked to easily find particular hymns. I even had our Morning Prayer leaders make use of the verses from "O Come O Come Emmanuel" on each of the designated days during the Third Week of Advent.
It's time to admit it: I am a Church nerd.
Being a church nerd has come with a price. Fellow church members look at me funny when I can tell them exactly which page they can find Eucharistic Prayer B, or the table for finding the suggested canticles for Morning Prayer. I can even give them a quick, and concise, history behind the meaning of the Episcopal Church shield. I have to be careful what I say in conversation with some people. I have lines of Scripture that are embedded in my brain, and they're liable to slip out when I'm talking to a friend or a client. How many times have I used the image of a lamp shining inside someone's house when encouraging the "enlightened" to not delight in their own precious luminary, but to carry that light out into the darkened streets as a call to help groups such as PFLAG fight for equality for LGBT citizens? I have backed out of doing performances with the Mickee Faust Club because the dates of the show conflict with Holy Week and Easter. Whenever Faust schedules something for a Sunday morning, I have to send my regrets: Sunday mornings are reserved for time in the church. Same with Friday noondays. Hymns, as I've mentioned many times on this blog, play like a jukebox in my head. How can I explain to the unfamiliar that the song I'm whistling is called "Tell Out My Soul" and--no--you won't hear that playing on the radio? It puts me a little out-of-step with the rest of the world, especially amongst my friends who are mostly agnostic to atheist.
And that's OK. I think about what Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina preached this summer at General Convention. What the world needs is some crazy Christians. Christians who will use that lamp vs. darkened street imagery, borrowed liberally from the Gospels, to make the point that justice requires those with just hearts to speak out and let their presence be known and felt in those areas where there's still inequality among people. Perhaps those hearing me speak are not "Christian", but that doesn't matter. The image works, and should be shared with the churched and the unchurched alike.
I find, too, that there is something that throws people a little bit when they come across me in my leather biker jacket with my flattop hair cut and my pride earring... walking out of St. John's Episcopal Church. I think I may be responsible for some uninteded whiplash as drivers gawk at the juxtaposition of me emerging from the church. I ran into a former neighbor in the parking lot who was coming to eat lunch at the church's cafe. We greeted each other, she introduced me to her fiancee, and her mother, and then asked if I had just had lunch. It was a Friday.
"No, I just came from the noon day Eucharist."
Blink. Stare. Blink. Smile. Blink.
"Oh!" she finally said.
"Yes, I'm a Eucharistic Minister!" I offered, cheerfully.
Blink. Smile. Blink.
"Wow. Huh!" There wasn't much more that she could say. The fiancee looked a little pale, but the mother seemed pleased. So, I wished them a good lunch, and got on my way, no doubt humming somthing like "God Is Working His Purpose Out" under my breath.
My nerdiness served me well when I recently attended the ordination of some friends at a very small African-American mission. For this service, I left the leather jacket at home and wore my blazer with the PFLAG emblem of a heart intertwined with a triangle. The room was tiny, and so those who were witnessing this joyous occassion were crammed in pretty tightly with each other. On one side of me was my partner. On the other side, a fairly hefty African-American male pastor came in with his wife and took the seat next to me. The ladies in front of us scooted their chairs forward, and he removed his hat and passed it along to be put behind my partner. I turned to this man, looking over my glasses at him and smiling.
"What are they trying to say about you?" I asked, referencing the chairs that were pulled forward.
"They're saying I'm fat!" he chuckled.
As the service went on, I found myself nodding in approval and acknowledging that I agreed with the messages that the various preachers were offering as they gave their words of wisdom to this trio about to be ordained. I laughed, knowingly, as the trio gave their own testimonies about not believing that God could be serious about calling them into ministry. And then the last one to speak broke into song, and I and the pastor and others joined in:
Just as I am without one plea
but that thy blood was shed for me
and that thou bidd'st me to come to thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
I barely know this tune having only heard it once, but I had written about these lyrics years ago on this blog so, somehow, I was able to fall in and sing along. At the end of the service, as we were leaving, my partner made sure the pastor knew where his hat was and he bid us both a good night.
What I did not know was that this pastor had apparently been one of the African-American ministers in town preaching hatred against gay people from the pulpit. But apparently my presence, and my church nerdiness that led me to know Scripture and song, made an impression on him. Gay people, suddenly, were no longer these bizarre, fictious characters he thought we were. And from reports that I have heard from others, he has had to do some rethinking about his beliefs about gay people as a result.
So, OK. I'm a church nerd. And I'm a queer church nerd at that. And I'm very thankful that, this weekend, I am not being asked to write 1,500 words on Constantine and the First Council of Nicea or discuss the meaning behind the Paschal Triduum celebration and what music I'd choose and why (although I am partial to Ubi Caritas for Maundy Thursday...) But even without the formal education in a seminary, or the pressure to prepare for exams, I have grown a lot not only in my knowledge of the whys and hows and what fors of the Church; I am deepening my relationship with God and becoming more the queer person modeled and shaped by Love to be Christ's heart and hands in the world.
My prayer for those taking the GOE is that they never forget who brought them to this point, so they can become the ordained heart and hands of Christ in the world.