by Jennifer Christenson
“Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.” (From the Rite of Ordination)
A little over 19 years ago, on the day of my ordination, I heard those words spoken to me. They are my favorite part of the ordination liturgy, along with the promise, “…be of good courage, for God has called you, and your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
This past year, I believe I have leaned harder into those words and clung more tightly to that promise than in any other year of ministry.
I know I am not alone in saying that this past year was incredibly challenging. I am friends with teachers, health care workers, small business owners, people who work in the service industry, and folks who work in various office-related jobs. Everyone had to learn to re-work basically everything, only to have another public health bulletin change everything all over again.
What I learned this past year
Like many, I learned a LOT this past year. I learned all about live streaming, recording worship, compressing videos, and that I can do a lot of cool things with iMovie. I learned that my husband is an absolute rock star when it comes to setting up worship space and making it look nice on camera (“Move the candle a little to the left…a little more…now back about half an inch…”). I learned what it is like to miss 700-ish people and how much the tiny interactions that happen on Sunday morning truly mean to me.
I learned that I am both stronger than I know and more fragile than I want to admit.
I learned, above all, that God is faithful and that because of that faithfulness, I can do the hard things this vocation has required of me. Time and again, when I was ready to collapse in frustration, I would be reminded in small ways and large that the God who gave me the will to do these things, the God who called me into ministry, was still giving me the strength I needed to go on. That came in the form of the nearly weekly emails from one kind member, praising and encouraging the efforts of the church staff. It came with the moments of levity while recording worship, the cacophony of 50 adults and students praying the Lord’s Prayer together at the end of our confirmation Zoom, and many more too numerous and too precious, to name.
As I look ahead to the uncertain future–the world has changed in ways we are only now beginning to see, and therefore so must the church–I know I will cling even more tightly to the promise that God will continue to sustain me in this challenging and holy work.
Likewise, as one who is an ardent supporter of the “priesthood of all believers,” I pray that all of you, no matter what your vocation, will cling to that promise too. May you also trust, hope, and believe that your work is not in vain, for if it is done in a spirit of love, kindness, and grace, it is exactly what the world needs right now.
The Rev. Jennifer Christenson is an ordained ELCA pastor, mom to two, and married to Corey, who serves the church as a bell choir director. Pastor Jen and family, including a dog and a cat, live in Green Bay, Wis. She was ordained on July 7, 2002.