Last Saturday I had the good fortune to attend the ordination of Nicole Pickens – now “the Reverend Nicole Pickens” – at Radnor Congregational Church in the Central Southeast Association. I say good fortune not because I found the day moving or because I like and care for Nicole, although all that is true. It was good fortune because there was a day when I probably wouldn’t have made the four-hour round trip in order to be there, and that would have been my loss.
A little over a year ago, I overheard a conversation between Terry Williams and Jared Ruari, both of whom were on the conference Vision Team with me. Terry had been ordained a short time earlier and was overwhelmed by the number of people who made an effort to spend the day in Chillicothe with him. He was particularly moved that colleague Jared Ruari drove all the way from Mansfield to Chillicothe in order to participate. Jared’s explanation was simple: “These things are important!”
Being present is indeed important! It’s a tangible way we demonstrate to one another how much we value them and their place in our community. Our presence is important at times of celebration, whether a wedding, a graduation, a baptism…. or an ordination. Our presence is important when times are tough – illness, job loss, or death. Our presence is important in countless ways, some seemingly mundane, whether it’s at a child’s performance, a family reunion, or a visit to a friend. Presence can be as simple as being in worship regularly on Sunday mornings or attending other church activities so that the congregational fabric is woven tighter and stronger.
I knew all of that, of course, but until I overheard that conversation between Terry and Jared, it hadn’t really occurred to me that It was important for ME to be there for an ordination, and not only for Nicole and the others that gathered, but for ME.
Due to construction on I-271, I arrived at Radnor Congregational just as the service was getting ready to start. The clergy were massed at the back of the church, just inside the door from the street, ready for the processional. The sight brought tears to my eyes, considering how so many had made time at such a busy time of year to be present for this important milestone in Nicole’s life. Present to celebrate a new colleague joining them in Christ’s ministry.
While it sounds somewhat selfish to say it, the service seemed designed as much for me as for Nicole. It used music and scriptures that are meaningful to me, including one of my long-time favorites, “Here I am, Lord.” The sermon was by Rev. Greta Wagner who I knew through my work with United Church Homes but whom I had never heard preach. I savored her message.
Nicole Pickens was radiant as she took her vows with a strong voice, as she extended the invitation to Communion, and as she gave the benediction. It was a privilege to be there as a witness!
Advent is a particularly fitting time to ponder the importance of presence. Jesus is the embodiment of presence for us. He comes to us where we are and shows us the eternal power of presence. Christ calls us to be fully present to each other, to every “other,” not only at Christmas time, but throughout the year.
May it be so!
Blessings and Peace,
Moderator, Ohio Conference