This past Sunday afternoon, November 6, 2011 at 4:30 p.m., I was installed as the Teaching Elder (Pastor) of the United Presbyterian Church of Shawnee, Oklahoma. It was a beautiful service filled with wonderful music, inspiring words and a lot of love.
My husband, Matt, gave a rousing charge to the congregation, reminding them about the importance of vision and reaching out. My daughter, Phoebe, not only sang in the choir, she had a solo! I couldn't believe that grown up young woman was my little girl. My son, Zach, was the acolyte, lighting and extinguishing the candles with great care and dedication, even willing to don an acolyte's robe for the occasion.
I was honored to have two dear friends participate. My friend, Jim Hawley -- whose blog inspired me to give blogging a try, and one that many of you have read thanks to Facebook -- preached a sermon based on the story of Ruth and the importance of relationship and community. It was so powerful that members of my church told him if I didn't work out, he'd always have a place in Shawnee. And trust me, it was indeed that good! I'm proud he's my friend.
And my dear friend, Ellen Brantley, who preached at her own church then drove four-and-a-half hours to be at my service, gave me the charge in the form of a poem she wrote just for me. She also designed and created the stole which I wore (and will continue to wear) with pride. Her willingness to do both of these things was not only a tribute to me, but to the friendship we've built over the years.
My congregation went all out for the occasion. The service was beautiful. The music was beyond words, complete with guest musicians. Members of the Achena Presbyterian Church, a nearby Seminole congregation came and sang and led the Lord's Prayer in Seminole. And my church folks gave me the best gift of all -- my parents. They brought my mom and dad down for the weekend.
I am also grateful for the members of Indian Nations Presbytery, and the women and men who served on my Administrative Commission. For those of you not familiar with Presbyterian polity, these are the folks who actually made up the committee (Presbyterians LOVE committees!) that installed me on behalf of the presbytery. Still don't fully understand? I'll explain later.
It's been over a decade since I've been installed in a church, and I wanted this service to be as amazing as possible. I got my wish and more.
I even got an earthquake.
It's true. Actually we've had at least two earthquakes plus significant aftershocks over the last few days. Are you paging up to the top of the blog, checking to make sure I wrote Shawnee, Oklahoma and not California? You read it correctly. We've been having earthquakes in Oklahoma.
I can honestly say that's not what I expected when I moved here. Tornadoes -- sure. (And in fact, western Oklahoma had a few of those on Monday.) Wind -- absolutely. Dust -- why not? But earthquakes?
At about 2:30 Saturday morning Zach, Matt and I felt the first one rumble through. Felt is an understatement. The house shook. The bed shook. We shook, moving back and forth like we were on a ride at Disney World. Phoebe slept peacefully through the whole thing.
That night, at about 11:00 p.m., Phoebe experienced a quake in full force because we had another, stronger quake. It was 5.6 on the Richter scale according to the news and the U.S. geological site. I was proud of myself that while the second one was happening, I was wearing the heels I'd bought for the installation the next day (anyone whose ever worn heels knows that you have to break them in) and I managed to remain upright.
But in spite of my ability to remain standing, I was unnerved by the whole event. I've never experienced earthquakes before. I don't think I want to experience anymore of them. And even though I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, I was worried that two earthquakes in 24 hours the day before my installation was an omen. A bad omen.
But my sister who lives in Greece and has survived a number of earthquakes over the years reassured me. The earthquakes, when looked at from a non-scientific perspective, might well be an omen, but not a bad one. A good one.
People discern God's call in a number of ways. Maybe they hear a voice in dreams or visions. Perhaps they are presented with an opportunity they never thought of before. I discerned God's call to do this new thing in this new place in an unceasing restlessness. I needed to shake things up. I needed to be shaken up. I just didn't know how literal that shaking would be.
So, according to my sister, the earthquake signified the fact that I will shake things up around these parts. That is great, but I also know that I will be shaken. Shaken by the great need of the people in this community. In the days following my installation, I've seen the hunger in a little boy's eyes to be read to, just read to. I've been approached by one of the homeless men who comes to our community dinner. He didn't want money, he just wanted a place for he and his wife to stay for the night. It was cold and he was tired of sleeping in the park and being hungry, always hungry. There is another homeless person sleeping on a semi-enclosed side porch of our church. I don't begrudge this child of God the shelter, but I worry that the ceiling above him or her will come crashing down. This is an old building that needs a lot of love ... and repair.
I am being shaken -- up, down and sideways. The need is great, and I don't pretend to be a super pastor or a super woman with all the answers. Far from it. But I trust one thing, and that's the belief that I was called here by God for a reason. The installation may be over, but the ministry has just begun. Let's get shaking!