This I Believe

Judith - Westwood, Massachusetts
Entered on January 4, 2008

I’m always perplexed when someone asks me why I decided to seek ordination as an Episcopal priest. I can’t answer easily, because I don’t truly understand why. However, I know that since my ordination in 1999, I’ve been more passionately engaged in all areas of life than I was in my earlier career as a writer.

Freelance writing can be a flexible, fulfilling, if sometimes isolating, way to earn a living. It’s a career that encourages passionate, even self-indulgent, flights of creativity that are so necessary to the writer’s craft. It dangles the twin carrots of “fame and fortune” in front of a writer’s nose, fueling pursuit of that most elusive of goals: a published book or article. And writing is one of few jobs that permits pajamas and slippers to be worn to the “office.”

What person of sound mind would trade all this for a career that emphasizes humility and selflessness, encourages frugality and a fair amount of self-denial, and understands service to God and all humankind as life’s highest purpose? Is there an upside to trading comfy pajamas for a clergy collar?

Previously, although I enjoyed the occasional and splendidly chaotic foray into creativity, I was more often mired in that peculiar despair known as “writer’s block.” Now, the responsibilities I bear on behalf of my parish demand every ounce of my creative juices on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. I simply have no time for despair, and wouldn’t recognize a “writer’s block” if I stubbed my toe on it.

Unlike the label “author,” for which the approved credentials are a published article or a lucrative book deal, “priest” is a label affirming who I am –– an individual vowed to live a life of compassionate, ethical service. As a priest, I am relieved of any expectation that I must “produce something” in order to be worthy. Mine is a career that affirms who I am as a human being, not what I am capable of as a “human doing.”

I may not be able to state why I’m an Episcopal priest. (In fact, I may not ever have been able to say why I was a writer, either.) But life’s highest purpose is clear to me now in a way that it was not, before my ordination.

Life’s highest purpose is not about producing something, or conquering problems, or measuring up to arbitrary or externally imposed standards. Life’s highest purpose is, simply, to build, nurture, and celebrate life-sustaining relationships with other people and with God.

As an Episcopal priest, I am called by name and graced with certain gifts –– creativity, flexibility, and passion– –– that help me to serve that highest purpose. Trading my pajamas and slippers for a clergy collar is one of the best exchanges I’ve ever made.