It’s been almost a week since my collaring ceremony took place at the Seminary and it’s only now that I think I have the words to describe what happened…
When I arrived at Seminary in January, I found I was the only probationer minister who had not been collared. On day one, all those who had been accepted by Conference as student ministers in the Methodist Church turned up in their ‘formal attire’, collared and bright and new and expectant and shiny. I felt a little bit left out, and it seemed to further alienate me from my new friends and colleagues. The big girl Philippa, said, ‘oh, it doesn’t really matter’ and the little girl learning Philippa was hurt and bewildered. Howcome? Howcome was I the only one who had been told that I wasn’t to be collared, that it would happen at the end of my three years here?
I spoke to some staff members who said, it’s no big deal, go out and buy yourself a collar and just start wearing it. But it felt wrong. I don’t collar me, God collars me. The collar is a sign that I have committed myself to a call that came from outside of myself. That is what the collar symbolizes, that we are servants, servants of a God who calls and waits for a response.
A friend of mine sent me a message that morning saying that the collar is also a symbol that the priest stands on a different kind of authority, an authority separate from the world, an authority that comes through the Son of God and that I should be encouraged to remember that when it came time to start speaking the truth of God against powers and principalities of the world, when it came time to fight for justice and truth and love. That made an impact on me. It’s not always easy to find the courage to speak against popular opinion and stand up for what you believe in, but this collar, this symbol, is my reminder that my strength and my call and my purpose comes from a source outside of me, but which runs within and throughout all of us individually and collectively.
All morning those words ran through my mind, ‘my love and grace runs within and throughout, my love and grace runs within and throughout.’
There was a group of gentlemen who took it upon themselves from the beginning to encourage me to ask for a ceremony and they gave me the strength to say, actually I would like the occasion to be marked. Motlatsi Letsoko, Sethunya Gaarekwe (‘Marty’) and Serame Thulo, spoke to the Chaplain and they took me to the Methodist Book Shop to buy my first clerical shirt and collar. Their reasoning was that they all had ceremonies in their home circuits and so I should have one too. I was a little embarrassed and didn’t want a fuss, you know how it goes, but in the end the Chaplain came and asked me if I would like to do something formally and then arranged it with the Dean to happen as part of our Covenant Service.
Friday morning when I woke up the tears were close, not tears of sadness, tears of overwhelming love and grace, firstly from God and then in acknowledgement of my new community who had stood behind me to ensure I got the same treatment that they had, showing me to be a part of them.
Some of you will know my dad, my very special father who passed away the day after my 30th birthday, the father who also had a call on his life and who in his later years, gave much to the church and to his God. His ministry seems to have been cut short too soon and my mum fervently believes that I have picked up my ministry from where my dad left off. Well, the opening song on the day of the Covenant service was ‘You raise me up’, sung by our very own Pastor Ozzie. Ozzie opened the service by inviting us all to be still and to just listen to the music as he sang to us. That song was sung at one of my father’s memorial services. (Can you feel my heart beating?) Believe it or not, rather than reduce me to a blubbering wreck, an enormous sense of peace passed over me and I knew, not only that this whole journey was right, but that my dad (and my mum) were there with me in spirit, if not in body.
Within and throughout… God said, within and throughout…
We said the words of covenant, recommitting to God and to our journey and it was a moving and uplifting experience. Then Sox (our Dean) called me up to the front in order to bless the collar and put it on. As I made my way to him the Young Men’s Guild and the Women’s Manyano started to sing, as is the custom when giving strength to one of their own. What joy, what celebration! It was overwhelming as I stood and waited, waited whilst my community gave thanks and lifted me up to God on songs of praise. I may not have understood the words, but I did recognise the feelings … love, hope, faith, joy.
I knelt before Sox and he prayed, he prayed the most beautiful prayer, thanking God for the call and for the knowledge that God has a plan and although we may not know now what that plan is, the assurance is there that if I listen, I will be guided and that my collar is my constant reminder of who I am and who I submit to. Then the tears came. Not messy, just gentle cleansing tears as Gods Spirit poured through me … More singing, more dancing as Sox asked me to lie face down in front of the cross, in the middle of a dancing community. It was a mark of humility and a way for me to surrender into servanthood.
It was meant! I was meant to be collared here, I was meant to be welcomed into Gods community of servants in this way. I feel that in my heart. It molded me into the life of the Seminary, it bonded me to my fellow Seminarians and it proved yet again, that God is a good God, a faithful God and that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purpose.
I stand in awe, as the tears flow once again…