This morning I had to return to St Ambrose because last week I had to schedule a meeting that only fit in today. This afternoon, there has been a life-and-death pastoral situation that drew me in as well, at least long enough to tend to a faithful person until we got longer-term support in place. And because staying busy right now is important, I did some packing this evening, putting away all my vestments.
I am not big on liturgical vestments–I have always been most comfortable in an alb and stole. And here, I confess my weakness. I love my stoles. Before putting them away, I laid out the ones I still have with me in the order of the liturgical year of the Episcopal Church. One, my Virgen de Guadalupe stole, hand made for me, already awaits me in a POD in Alabama.
I got the Advent stole for my first Christmas at St Ambrose. The white stole was a gift–a hand-me-down, actually. It was designed and sewed by a very well known liturgical arts artist for another priest. A change in plans left the stole and a chasuble that goes with it orphaned and I was the fortunate inheritor. It’s sort of cosmic. The green one was a gift from the altar guild of All Saints. The purple one for Lent is hand woven, the gift of one of the most insightful, deep pastors I am honored to know. I have used it next to so many death beds now. On the night of my ordination to the priesthood, Sherod helped me vest and when it came time to put on my red stole, he took out the one I had given him for his ordination to the priesthood 19 years earlier.
The next two are my ‘all seasons’ stoles. The one at the very end was given to me by a very dear friend–I have not had a chance to wear it as much as the others, but I will. The one just before the last one was a gift from St Ambrose. The day the Sr Warden gave it to me, we all still deeply distrusted each other. If my memory is correct, the Sr Warden at the time gave it to me at the end of the service one Sunday soon after it became clear we were going to hang in with each other, St Ambrose and I; receiving it was as close to an installation liturgy as I got and all I can really remember was how uneasy I was, along with grateful. This past Sunday, I know several people would have liked a bit more vestment pomp and circumstances–at least a chasuble as well as stole. There was no question that I would wear anything other than stole, now well-worn, a bit tattered, beloved. I stood in my stole and alb and gave the same person I received my stole from (he is Sr Warden once again), my letter of resignation. A circle closed. I still ache thinking about the moment a little later when it was time to take off that stole.
Somewhere in my education for the priesthood, I heard that one function of the stole is to remind me of the invitation in the Gospels: “My burden is light and my yoke is easy”. Serving in this community has helped me understand what that invitation means. Tomorrow I fly to Austin, still required to wear a clerical collar whenever I am on official business, but not going to a place where I can wear these liturgical vestments I love so much and tell my story.
Looking at the stoles this evening was looking in the rearview mirror.