Thursday, March 6, 2014

How Ash Wednesday Saved Me

The question I get asked so frequently, is why would a Baptist pastor become an Episcopal, even more so, an Episcopal priest.  The list is long and varied, but last night as I was celebrating the Ash Wednesday service, I was taken back to my first foray into liturgical worship.

My sophomore roommate at the University of Richmond was a Catholic raised on Long Island.  Rich was as devout in his faith as I was in mine.  He made a point of attending mass weekly, either on or off campus.  That always impressed me.  I was curious about Lent and Ash Wednesday.  He invited me to join him, and I took him up on the offer.

We went to the Chapel at UR, always a favorite building of mine.  I was ordained (the first time) there, proposed to my wife there, and was married there.  It will always be a special place for me.  Last night, I saw how the feelings that were stirred in me probably pointed directly to that first Ash Wednesday, that gave me an alternative when I was ready to write Church off, and leave the only calling I have ever known.

That night I was moved by how many came, and how they were engaged and in unison.  They said the liturgy, and when the time came, they received the imposition of ashes.  I joined in the line, and received from the female campus minister ashes reminding me that, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return."  Immediately I was struck.  We only get one ride on this Merry-Go-Round, so we really should try to get as much out of our trip doing the best we can the first time through.  Walking back to my seat, I pondered the millions around the world that were doing the same thing on this same day.  For the first time, I felt a part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses, both past and present.  I felt a part of something bigger than myself.  I felt God in this.

I did not change my denomination then, nor did I even think about it.  But, tucked away from that moment, I saw my denomination in a new light.  It became one of many.  It became an option.  An option I wholeheartedly embraced, but an equal amongst others.

Jumping ahead from 1989 to 2009, when the circles I was running felt insular and territorial, I remember looking back and seeing a bigger version of Church, a grander vision of connecting, a hope for what I always felt Church could be, should be, and my wife and I made the decision for what it would be for our children.  I see now that that night with Rich my roommate saved the future me when I had no hopeful vision, and I was able to look to a broader Church that included all, bound by the common liturgy and faith.  I could not be more thankful, to Rich, and to God.

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Blessings, Rock