One is never too old to be called by God

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, June 14, 2020

By: Denise Bennett, summer intern

When David suggested I write a reflection, I looked at the scriptures assigned for today in the Revised Common Lectionary. When I saw that one of them was Genesis 18: 1-15, I had to laugh. It is that story about the three strangers who come to visit Abraham and Sarah to reiterate that God will fulfil the promise made to them many years before that they would have a child. Long past child-bearing age, when Sarah overhears them say this from inside the tent, she laughs. Back in the mid 90’s when I first experienced a call to ministry, I wrote a dialogue sermon with my mother-in-law Judy who is now a retired United Methodist minister on this very passage. I believe we titled it (because Methodists do that in church bulletins) “And Sarah Laughed.”

I do not remember much else about the sermon except that having never preached before I felt incredibly awkward. I kept thinking “what do I do with my hands?” But Judy and the small congregation were very encouraging. A few years after that I got my M.Div. from Union Presbyterian Seminary. I loved seminary and found my preaching voice there, but I did not stay in the United Methodist ordination process for a variety of reasons. Instead after seminary, I found work as a lay chaplain at Hermitage Richmond, a retirement community in Richmond’s Northside. I also discovered storytelling and began to tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of places from pre-schools to bars to churches’ halls.

When our two sons were young, I attended church wherever my husband Jim, who is a church musician was working. When he took a position at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, commuting on weekends, I began to look around for an Episcopal Church in Richmond. At the invitation of a friend, I began to attend St. Andrew’s in Oregon Hill. There I fell in love not only with the people of St. Andrew’s but with the Episcopal liturgy itself.

As I became more involved in the life of the church, preaching and teaching and being a chalice bearer, the call to ordained ministry resurfaced, quiet but insistent. At first, I felt a bit like Sarah, “What? Are you joking, God? At my age?” But when I blurted out to Bishop Susan, “Am I too old to be ordained as a priest?” and she gently answered, “One is never too old to be called by God.” I did not laugh; I burst into tears, but they were tears of joy. So here I am at 61 years-old, a postulant to the priesthood and an intern in the Mid-Atlantic Training Program. I will be a student at Virginia Theological Seminary in the fall for Anglican Studies.

I have already received such welcoming messages from some of you and I look forward to meeting you in cyberspace and I hope, in person too. I look forward to learning and worshipping with you, loving and laughing together too! This is such a strange season in which we find ourselves and yet I see already the many ways you have found to be church even at a physical distance. In this time of uncertainty, let’s hold fast to the words that the heavenly messenger said to Sarah, “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”