As of yesterday, contributions from many of you have brought my indiegogo campaign to $1000. Thank you so much for all your support and help, whether through your financial contributions or in the myriad other ways you have encouraged me on my path to ordination. If you haven’t already, please go to https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/catharine-clarenbach-s-ordination and make a gift. Whether $200 or $25, nearly every gift has brought tears to my eyes. I am so grateful to all of you.
What follows is a short story about my path to ordination and why I am in ministry. I encourage you to read it and learn more about where I’ve come from and how I try to inhabit my ministry now.
One of the reasons I chose to go to Wesley was that I didn’t want to be around people I experienced as mostly “like me”. I visited another seminary, and I found it populated mostly by youngish, white, liberals who were on the progressive edge of theology and religion. I felt comfortable there, surrounded by “my people,” as it were. But comfort was not what I wanted in my seminary.
I want to be a bridge-builder. I want to be willing to be wrong in the service of being loving. I want to live in a community of beloveds that is not just about me and my experience. AND I want to find people who teach me about my own identity and enlarge my sense of who I am.
When I walked onto the Wesley campus, I knew I had found my place. My first day of school, I was introduced to a Seventh-Day Adventist, many (many) United Methodists, a Missionary Baptist, some Presbyterians, and several American Baptists. At lunch, one of the women at my table asked, “Is the salvation of students’ souls the mission of this school?” This was not a question I would ever ask, and I found myself struggling to relate to it.
But of all the people I interacted with that day, one stood out in my awareness: The now Rev. Dr. Mackessa Holt.
Rev. Dr. Holt (I only knew her as Mackessa at the time.) sat with my wife and me at our table during the orientation to the school. Speaking of “my wife,” one of the things Mackessa may not have expected to find in seminary were queer women. In fact, I learned later that she certainly did not.
And that’s just the beginning. We came from family configurations, different races, different religious backgrounds, different understandings of theology and religious authority, as well having different understandings of the proper role of sexuality. We are just really different from one another. And not just in superficial ways. This is not a story about how “the surface” is different, but “inside” we’re all the same. Mackessa and I are really different. She is an introvert and inclined to give people the quiet side-eye when she thinks they’re being foolish. I am, well, not an introvert.
Rev. Dr. Holt is among my best friends from seminary. We studied together; we coffeed together; and we came to admire one another. I learned about her work in Public Health. She came to hear me preach. Most of all, we have come to be friends, true friends.
If I had not gone into ministry, I would never have known Mackessa. I could have stayed happily in my own white, progressive, theologically liberal bubble. But Mackessa and other Wesley friends have pushed me to listen, love, and learn more than I ever would have before I began my Masters of Divinity.
Mackessa shapes my ministry every time we talk. She reminds me of the power of genuine friendship and the risks it demands. I am so grateful that my ministry travels have caused our paths to cross. Because of Mackessa, I am now even more committed to knowing and being known, seeing and being seen, loving and being loved. Because of her and others from Wesley—the Presbyterian and Episcopalian folk, the Missionary and American and Alliance Baptist folk, the United Church of Christ folk, the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion folk, as well as the cohort of Unitarian Universalists I would eventually join and come to know—because of all these people, my ministry is what it is, and growing every day.