Magazine article The Christian Century

Welcomed to Ministry

Magazine article The Christian Century

Welcomed to Ministry

Article excerpt

ALMOST 25 YEARS AGO, I began learning to be a minister under the patient guidance of Bernard O. Brown, the dean of the chapel at the University of Chicago and an Episcopal priest. Our Sunday service ended with a Eucharist, celebrated at a large and imposing altar that stretched across the center of the chancel. I learned to make my gestures big, to open my arms wide, to lift the cup above my head.

What I never quite got the hang of was the chanting. There was a small part of the service that the celebrant always sang. Bernie has a beautiful voice. In his student days, he had sung with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. To hear his voice ring out over the altar was like hearing stained glass turned into music: full of color, right on pitch, reverent in tone.

To hear me chant was another experience. I would heave my voice over that altar as best I could, hoping I would land on a note--not too high, not too low--that would make it possible for the congregation to sing back its response. Some mornings I could hear all of my insecurities about my authority as a minister amplified in those few lines of chant.

One Sunday when Bernie was out of town, Peter Gomes of Harvard's Memorial Church came to fill the pulpit. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the text on which he preached or the words of his sermon. What I do remember is his voice, which rang out through our church, full of humor and wisdom and authority. He sounded like a person who knew who he was. And who he was--was a minister.

Peter and I returned to Bernie's office to take off our robes and collect our things. As he prepared to leave, Peter extended his hand. "It was such a pleasure working with you this morning," he said. "It's always good to hear a woman's voice in the liturgy. The chanting was especially nice."

Peter Gomes died on February 28 at the age of 68. I hadn't thought about our first meeting for years, and I don't think, to my great regret, that I ever reminded Peter of it. I don't think I ever told him how much it meant to me to be greeted by him as a colleague in ministry in the days when I was so unsure of myself.

The hand he extended to me on that Sunday morning remained extended. He was a powerful ally in supporting ministry preparation at Harvard and a dedicated teacher, both rigorous and generous, of future ministers. …

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