Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new Assistant

In the midst of this week's heat and humidity, Trinity welcomed its new Assistant Rector, Mariclair and celebrated with her the first of her opportunities to lead Holy Eucharist at our Wednesday morning 8 AM liturgy.

Wednesday morning came early after a long and fruitful vestry meeting on Tuesday, and a good twenty souls gathered in the Chapel for Mariclair's first sacramental action as a priest of the Church. Firsts are always important, but seldom everything you hope them to be. Striving for that one moment in life when it all comes together is great. I still remember my first Eucharist: it was in a nursing home at Ms. Grace Stine's bedside. But was it a crowning moment in my priesthood? Not really. I remember it because it was my first, but it wasn't my best. It wasn't the most poignant. It wasn't anything other than the first.

I don't know how Mariclair will hold yesterday's experience in her memory. I know it will abide in mine. Sitting between my wife, Laura and Bill Wolf, I was given the experience of seeing the first of many moments of a person whose priesthood is just beginning. That is truly a precious thing. There will be first baptisms, weddings, funerals and a host of other pastoral rites...but that first Eucharist will stand out for me.

We, all of us, in whatever field we serve in, have those first moments. Very often they stack up on each other...for doctors, the first time they assist in a birth-or a death. For professors, that first paper delivered to their peers-or the first class they teach as "Dr. so-and-so." For parents, those first few moments with a babe in arms after you leave the hospital. Firsts are important.

Still, as I watched Mariclair celebrate for the first time, I was also aware of a moment in my own priesthood when I really celebrated the Eucharist. There was one morning, about seven years ago, when I had the early Thursday morning service and as I was standing at the altar-something happened. I experienced a sense of not being distracted by any sideline thoughts, and the words of the prayers rang like bells both in my ears and in my belly. I was feeling, seeing, hearing, experiencing and leading worship like never before-and have felt like I have only a few times since. I was celebrating Eucharist, for real...and it was a visceral, spiritual, epiphanic thing. I left the altar with a sense of elation and regret. Elation, because I knew I had just had a remarkable experience...and regret, because I feared that might have been a one off thing. After my morning service ended and we were cleaning up, I was talking to Helen Thomas, the organist emerita of the parish-and a devout woman who never missed a liturgy if she could help it. I didn't feel too confident talking about my experience-but I figured she might be the one who might understand. To my relief and support, she did. When I told her that I had a funny feeling that after a half-decade of priesthood I had for the first and-gulp-perhaps last time celebrated Eucharist, she smiled and said, "Yeah...I played Bach once, too."

So, to Mariclair and to the rest of the newbie priests: Happy First...and I pray that moment of really first will visit you often.

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