Not That Christ is Funny

by

04/11/2008

Washington Heights/Fort Tryon Park, 10034

Neighborhood: Washington Heights

My friend John promised a world away from the gray of Boston, but the Cloisters seemed equally cold and dim when we paid our admission fee (ahem, suggested $20 donation). The cold from the stone floor seeped upward through my shoes as we began to wander around, approaching the tapestry in which the unicorn sits entrapped.

“I always found the imagery very sad,” John said, stepping back from the tapestry and folding his arms across his chest. “It’s supposed to be about Christ.”

I tried not to laugh. It’s not that Christ is funny. Lord no. But John and I had both been to Divinity School. And for those of us who have survived Div School, everything can be about Christ, much like at Smith, where I studied for two years, everything was about penises (love of them, fear of them, hatred of them). But back to Christ.

“The unicorn is Christ because it comes back from the dead?” I said.

“It’s not much of a resurrection. He’s in chains. He’s in a fence.”

I met John while in chaplain training at a hospital. On the first day, John told our small group of ministers-to-be that he was gay and I got in trouble with the head chaplain for wearing Converse sneakers. I can’t say that chaplain training improved too much after that point for me. I spent a lot of time with older Catholic patients, who didn’t believe I was a chaplain because I was female. They did, however, believe I was a nurse, and often thought I could get them better food.

“Are you still in the ordination process?” I asked. John had many of the requirements of his denomination out of the way when we met. He already had his M.Div degree and was completing additional elements: the psychological evaluation, the recommendations, and the chaplain training.

“I’m with a new archdiocese,” he said, taking a step back again toward the wall and staring at the unicorn.

A new archdiocese. That meant that the old one hadn’t worked out for him. That was not good news.

John and I had both been discouraged from pursuing ministry though I didn’t realize it at the time. He was gay in an archdiocese that had “enough” gays, and so the hurdles increased, and his progress slowed. John had stalled afterward. He couldn’t get the official approval to continue.

I wasn’t as actively discouraged; it was more like I just wasn’t encouraged at all. I was female in a denomination that had more than enough females, leading to all sorts of discussions on the feminization of ministry, and how ministry was now becoming women’s work in our denomination (much like child care, teaching, and social work). And the job opportunities post-ordination seemed to mirror opportunities in teaching: many part-time opportunities, none of which paid appropriately.

Unlike John, I gave up relatively quickly. I had to work full time while attending Div School full time, squeezing in additional hours for the chaplain training. A year of that schedule was enough to convince me that I either needed to work less and take on more debt or find another career path. I chose the latter.

“Can we go outside?” I said. “Christ or not, the unicorn is fucking depressing.”

John led me to the courtyard with raised beds of plants. Mostly dead plants. It was February after all. Perhaps this was just as good as it got on the eastern seaboard.

“So when do you say when?” I asked, and buttoned my coat. It felt as if it might snow.

“When they finally say no,” John said, hands stuffed in pockets.

Being called by God is tough stuff. It’s not that God necessarily yells Yoo-hoo. It’s more that you sense more than anything that your role in the world is to minister to others. And that usually means ordination in a specific denomination, but not necessarily.

“You know what I did?” I said, stopping and turning to face him. “I got ordained on the Internet.”

There was silence. I really hated to think about what he must think of Internet ordination after all the time we spent in Div School. It’s the quick fix. It diminishes ministry from a trained profession of people who are “called,” to people who can enter their email into a on-line form.

John pressed his lips together, and then said, “I did too. Because you never know.”

“You might need to marry someone,” I said. “That’s why I did it.”

“Or bury someone,” John said. “Life is ministry.”

“I did my grandmother’s memorial service,” I said.

John grinned at me. “Maybe we should form our own denomination.”

 

Stephanie Anagnoson is a writer living in Southern California. She is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and ministers about workplace issues at www.survivingtheworkday.com.

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