Thursday, January 13, 2011

Marking my ten years as a priest today

He brought me out into an open place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
-- Psalm 18:20

Today I am taking a moment of personal privilege. Today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in God's One Holy and Apostolic Church. I am writing this the night before because today I want to sleep in a little. I am going to take the day off, and I might not read any email.

Today I want to pause and take stock a little. Maybe that's because I am still a journalist at heart, and we journalists like round anniversaries, and this is one.

Ten years ago today, I was ordained at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Sacramento, my home parish, the faith community that sparked and nurtured my adult spiritual formation.

Lori and I came to Trinity because we were working in Sacramento, and we found in Trinity a community of faith that was open and inviting and welcomed exploring the hard questions of faith.

For two decades I was a newspaper reporter, working everything from the crime beat to covering the inside of the California Legislature. I went off to seminary in 1997 at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, commuting from Sacramento while Lori continued to work at The Sacramento Bee where we had met as colleagues. When I finished, I went back to work at The Sacramento Bee for awhile. And then, to my amazement, I was called to return to Trinity Cathedral to serve as an assistant and eventually as Associate Dean. I also got to return to the Legislature for four years as the Chaplain to the California Senate and reconnect with many friends there.

All told, Lori and I spent 18 years at Trinity, including the six incredible years I served on the staff with many friends. I was especially privileged to serve with The Very Rev. Donald Brown, the dean of the Cathedral. His friendship, guidance, mentoring, wisdom, irreverence and humor means more to me than anyone can imagine and still does. He and his wife Carol Anne, and their children Kevin and Meredith are our second family (and Meredith will be joining us Friday for a little celebration).

In 2006, Lori and I were invited to leave Trinity when a new dean took over after Don's retirement. Leaving was hard, and we are very grateful for the many friends from Trinity who have stuck with us in our low points. We did not want to leave Trinity, or Sacramento, but leave we did.

We've been on the road ever since, serving brief stints at St. Luke's Auburn, St. John's, Marysville, and then a wonderful year at All Souls Parish in Berkeley (my home town). I will be forever indebted to the people of All Souls for their confidence in me. God has kept us in open places.

We've been at St. Paul's Memorial Church since July 2008. It's been delightful at times, difficult at other times. We've had many joys and many heartbreaks. We are still in transition. I am continually amazed at the depth, the smarts, the dedication to mission, and the energy of the people of St. Paul's. I am ever growing with you.

Throughout Lori has been at my side. She married a journalist and ended up with an Episcopal priest. She has rolled with every wave on the high seas. She's been unfailingly supportive, ever willing to try the next adventure. I love her more than life itself.

Finally, truth be told, I don't remember much about my ordination ten years ago. I remember we had a great party, and my dad was there. Bishop Jerry Lamb laid hands upon me along with an assemblage of priests and that was an emotional moment for me. Jerry was and still is a great friend and a wise counselor. But I felt more relief than anything for having reached this major milestone. I do remember one thing: Don Brown's sermon. I've tried to live up to it every day of these ten years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successfully.

Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to be your priest and your friend, for your patience and forgiveness, and for hanging in there with me and supporting Lori. May all of you have many blessings in the years to come.

Here below is Don's sermon from January 13, 2001. We were very mindful that it was the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the feast day of Hillary of Poitier. The lessons we used that day were Isaiah 6:1-8, Ephesians 4:7,11-16, and John 15:9-17.

Sermon at the ordination of James Richardson
By The Very Rev. Donald Brown
Dean, Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento
We are gathered here this morning as a community of Christ's people to participate in making James David Richardson as a priest in Christ's holy catholic Church.
Now for those of you who are Jim's friends and supporters who may not be from this congregation, the Episcopal Church or any other Christian Church, let me assure you that your presence and support for Jim today and in the years ahead are very important. God's Holy Spirit works through those who are baptized and those who are not. God's Holy Spirit works through Churches but also through other institutions, like the Sacramento Bee and the California State Legislature, neither of which would officially claim any special divine blessing even though certain individuals in each of these organizations consider themselves more knowledgeable and enlightened than God.
When I first met Jim 12 or so years ago he was deeply immersed in the life of both of the Bee and State government. Jim was, and still is, very good at political reporting and at maneuvering through the machinations and the good, the bad, and the ugly of the public fa├žade, as well as the smoke filled back rooms, of the political and journalistic world.
As Jim's relationship with the Lord of all life deepened, he became aware, perhaps precisely because of the Bee and the Legislature, of God's calling him into another avenue of ministry.
In fact, Jim much like a modern day Isaiah, as his sense of calling to ordained ministry became more intense, may very well have said to God as Isaiah did so long ago in a smoke filled religious setting: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips."
This comment of Isaiah's is a simple recognition that he was unworthy of a holy calling. The same is true of Jim….who probably is thinking right now, "Why did I ask this guy to preach?" But the truth is that Jim and all the rest of us, ordained or not, are flawed human beings and are in need of God's grace, God's love, and God's Spirit if we are to know healing and hope in our lives. For Isaiah the assurance of that healing came in the form of a seraph, a winged creature of some sort, who carried a live coal from the altar and touched Isaiah's mouth with it.
The point is that Isaiah experienced a sense of holy cleansing that prepared him for ministry. Fortunately for all of us this painful sounding coal routine for cleansing was ultimately replaced by the act of baptism. By virtue of our baptism all of us who are baptized are called to ministry. We are not made worthy by our own efforts. We do not earn God's forgiveness and love. No, God gives these to us as gift…pure gift.
During the first century when St. Paul was busy planting churches in cities that bordered the Mediterranean Sea, he constantly emphasized that in Christ’s Church, each follower of Jesus has been gifted to play an important role in the building up of the Realm of God.
In the powerful and poetic language we heard this morning from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. We who are part of the Church are members of a living body "joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, [and] as each part is working properly [we] promote the body's growth in building itself up in love.”
What we are about here, in this service, is asking that God’s grace be given in special measure to Jim, not so that he can become markedly different in rank or importance in the Church, but in order for Jim to be especially gifted so that he can do the work and mission God has given him to do within the body of Christ.
Like Isaiah in this morning’s first reading, Jim has heard a call from God and he has responded, “Here am I, send me.” Bishop Lamb and the priests who will soon lay their hands upon Jim’s head and shoulders, do so as an outward and visible sign of God's gift of grace which will empower Jim to live out his call to be a priest in this branch of Christ’s Church.
Bishop Lamb will give specific instructions to Jim which affirm that he is to work within the Body of Christ as a pastor, priest, and teacher, and to share with other clergy in the councils of the Church. In other words, Jim is being ordained to a position of leadership within the Church.
But as the Gospel reading from John makes abundantly clear, this is to be a ministry of love as modeled for us by Jesus, Jesus who says to us, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." Jesus calls all of us to a radical love and respect of others even as we are to love and respect ourselves. Jesus is even so radical as to call us to love our enemies and do good to people who are evil to us.
This is a particularly fitting reminder to one who is called to be a priest. It is also very appropriate on this weekend when our nation remembers the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His commitment to non-violence was rooted in Jesus' Gospel of love.
Worldly wisdom teaches and practices the conviction that force and power will change people and societies. Press, politicians, priests, people of all sorts and conditions easily slip into thinking that coercion will change behavior and it can, at least for a while. But unless the heart is changed, the old and usually destructive patterns of human behavior will reassert themselves.
Jesus' way, which Dr. King emulated, demonstrates that only radical love of even the worst and most reprehensible of neighbors can change hearts and lives, and in time even societies. This is a lesson all the baptized, including those of us who are clergy or elsewhere in the public arena, can never be reminded of too many times…. only radical love of even the worst and most reprehensible of neighbors can change hearts and lives, and in time even societies.
Perhaps more than any other attribute, the love that Jesus lived must be at the heart of Christian ministry. This is true for all the baptized and especially it is what we seek in our priests. And there are other qualities that are needed such as integrity, trustworthiness, courage, a passion for knowing God more fully, intellectual inquisitiveness, a love of people, a heart for service, and a vision for living life that is anchored in trusting the goodness and mercy of God. Furthermore, in the sometimes rough and tumble of congregational life, a thick skin and a sense of humor are also very helpful. These are the qualities that enable one to be a faithful pastor, priest, and teacher so that each member of a congregation can respond to the call of Jesus can be engaged in ministry to a world which is full of broken, hurting, needy people.
Jim, my brother in Christ, please stand.
All of your life experiences have led you here to this Cathedral and this holy time. Your baptism, the congregations you have been a part of from childhood until now, your experiences with your friends and co-workers in the field of journalism and politics, the love of your family and especially of Lori, your years of questioning and wondering how you were to respond to God's call to you, the intellectual and spiritual challenges you encountered in seminary, your ministry as a transitional deacon in this congregation, all have been gift and grace filled, each playing a part in forming you into what you are about to become: a priest in the Church of God.
May you always be a priest of vision and have the faith and courage to live that vision. Do not settle for mediocrity. Remember that the Lord of Life always deserves the best you can give. Pray hard, trust God, work collegially, don't ever take yourself too seriously and laugh a lot.
And to paraphrase a line from the prayer of St. Hilary which you included on the back cover of today's program: May the sails you have hoisted for God always be filled with God's Holy Spirit and carry you forward on the journey which lies ahead. AMEN.


shadowlands said...

Happy Anniversary Father Jim! I just looked St Hilary up, I thought he was a woman!
Anyway, it says he raised people from the dead after much praying (in the dust on one occasion!) so expect great things in the next ten years. The Lord will have you levitating yet.

Hope your day is relaxing and memorable. God bless and keep you safe.

Ros in UK.

Janice Dean said...

Jim, thank you for listening to me even when I'm inarticulate, for trusting in me even when you're not sure what's going to come out of my mouth next, for giving me rides home even after a long day of work, for caring about me even when I frustrate you, and for so much more. I am glad that my life has intersected with your and Lori's lives. Congratulations on your 10 years of being a priest!

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Thank you for your kind words. But you have never frustrated me. Forgive me for being slow on the uptake sometimes. And thank you for having your life intersect mine and Lori's.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your first Decade as a priest! Your generosity of spirit is a blessing both to us as a parish and to me.

I don't know if I'd mentioned, but I often share your sermons on facebook, where they are much appreciated.


Anonymous said...


With thanksgiving for your response to your calling and your exponential growth.

Bill Jaskoski

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Megan, thank you much for your many kindnesses!
And, Bill, not sure it is exponential growth. More like painfully incremental.

Mike Dunne said...

Congratulations, Jim. You did much good work at The Bee, and you seem to have been gaining momentum ever since. I was about to rib you about Hillary of Poitier, thinking you must have meant Harry of Potter, but then I remembered you have an astute copy editor in the family.

Ed Tourangeau said...

Blessings on your anniversary of ordination. Not too long ago I celebrated my 40th! I've followed your blog for about a year now, and find much that encourages me as my wife and I consider a move to your area to be closer to our daughter and her family in our retirement. I pray that St. Paul's will continue to be a good place for you to offer your gifts and plumb their depths, and that your leadership will guide the parish in the witness it makes.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Thank you for your kind words, and congratulations on your retirement. Please come to St. Paul's if you are in our area.