The letter was non-descript. 3 paragraphs of type with one hand written note: 11:00 A.M. That was the time of my meeting and one of the more crucial hours in my life. Though like some crucial hours in one’s life: I was prepared for it. Well, prepared in some ways, not as prepared in others. Prepared because I had done a lot of work for this meeting. Not just the sermon, the Bible Study, and the Theological questions, but more so the culmination of the past 8 years: going to classes, talking with family and friends, studying the Word, praying, preaching, being a youth director, going to Annual Conference, and a host of other things. I had positioned myself for an hour that I was prepared for. I was not fully prepared though. I did not know what questions would be asked, what perspectives would be brought, or how my nerves would react. My family and friends told me I had nothing to worry about. They are wise folks, of course, but I was anxious anyway.
I arrived at St. Luke’s UMC for my interview 20 minutes early. After tying my tie 5 times, I finally got it just right and proceeded into the building, up the stairs, and into the appointed waiting room. The waiting room was thick with anxiety and pleasantries and after a few minutes I was called into the interview room. D.A. Bennett, pastor of St. Andrews UMC in Moore, OK, was the one who greeted me. His smiling face made my anxiety drop. I had met D.A. on a couple of occasions and had both liked him and respected him. It was truly a friendly face.
I was taken down the hall and introduced to the other folks on the committee. 4 clergy, 2 laity. 3 women, 3 men. A variety of ages though representative of our conference, a little on the older side. I did what I always do in those situations. I look people in the eyes, give them a firm handshake, and try to remember names. They were warm and serious, and we began with prayer.
Their first question surprised me, as one lady asked, “Do I always preach that long?” On the list of expected starting questions that was about 200,387 on the list. I had preached about 28 minutes, my longest sermon though hardly in the pantheon of long-winded preachers, who most of us have heard go for 35 minutes, 40 minutes or even longer like it is nothing. I knew that I had preached a long sermon, but this was an important sermon that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave anything out. The lady appeared to be fairly concerned about this, and I was somewhat shaken. My biggest problem with my preaching is not my length, but most certainly my pride that sometimes accompany one of my sermons that seem especially well-crafted. We moved on from there to talk about my sermon. There were a variety of questions from style to preparation to content. They brought some good opinions and spoke the truth in love.
Throughout the interview there were a few different realms of comments and questions. There were comments of affirmation. “Aaron you really made a good point here, and I appreciated that. I hadn’t thought about it like that before.” There were questions of clarification. “You said in your response on page 12 this, what exactly did you mean?” For example, I had made a statement about my understanding of the itineracy that if I was offered an appointment and did not feel the Spirit’s assurance in the situation that I could approach the Bishop and Cabinet and my concerns would be listened to. The key word in that statement is “listened to.” It does not mean that they will change their minds, but simply that our concerns would be heard. There were other questions of amplification. Similiar to the clarification approach, but with an affirmative tone. There were questions on the scope of statements. I had made some big claims that as one person on the committee said twice, “I’m not saying that I disagree with you. I just don’t know if I would say it.” Finally, there were some words of advice from seasoned people in ministry.
We started with discussing the sermon, moved to discussing the Bible Study, and finished with my theological questions. They didn’t have any significant concerns about my theological positions, and much to my surprise didn’t ask me a single question about the sacraments. (I had to read a book about the sacraments for my worship class, and I had read it the 3 days leading up to the interview in order to be prepared.) Overall, the interview took about 55 minutes when they asked me to leave the room, so they could talk about me. I felt pretty good when I left the room. They smiled as I walked out, and while they had some good words of advice for me, they didn’t seemed concerned about me, but still you are somewhat nervous.
I texted Heather, told her I was pretty sure I did well, but I would know more when they invited me back in. Thankfully, they tell you immediately, though the 7 minute wait seemed a like more like 17. They welcomed me back with a smile. D.A. Bennett passed on the good news: I was unanimously approved for commissioning by the subcommittee! They then spoke some affirming words to me. Acknowledging my call to ministry. Acknowledging my giftedness as a preacher. Looking forward to being partners in ministry, and being a part of my ordination journey. (I’ll have basically the same committee when I go back throughout this process.) I was handed a sealed envelope with my name scribbled on it. I’m not sure what all was on the committee, but I was told to hand this to the executive committee where they would see I was unanimously approved and read any notes they had about me, which I was assured there were none.
So I returned to the waiting room. When you have as long of a process as the UM Church has a few minutes in a waiting room shouldn’t feel like a long time, but it is. It was different this time, though. I was relaxed, and frankly all of us waiting to go before the executive committee were relaxed. We didn’t know each other that well, but there were some connections throughout the room. Every once in a while, one of us would be called to the executive committee, and the room got a little less crowded. It did however start to fill back up again with the next wave of people who were scheduled to meet with their subcommittee. The anxiety level with the newcomers in the room was a stark contrast to those who had already been through their meetings.
I was finally called into the Executive Committee and again did what I always did in those situations, walked around looked people in the eye, gave a firm handshake, and tried to remember people’s name. There was about 10 people on the executive committee, but it was a significantly bigger room and the people were more spread out. They approved me as well and went over some of the details of my commissioning. It was informative and helpful. We prayed. They blessed, and I left.
Walking down the stairs and out the church, I felt a mixture of relief and joy. I called Heather, and we talked for a while sharing the joy at this stage in the journey. I called my parents and other friends who had helped me along the journey. You can’t get this far on your own. We know that, of course, but it truly is a communal celebration. Many people said that they were happy for me and proud of me, which are kind words from their heart. However, the truth of the matter is that this is a shared joy and honor. So to my family and friends who read this: Thank you from the bottom of heart. Your love and grace has been God’s love and grace.
So until Memorial Day, May 25th, I am Reverend-Elect Aaron Tiger. It doesn’t feel different, and the name is more for my humor than anything else. But on that evening in Oklahoma City, Bishop Hayes will commission me as a minister for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church (appointed to finish my degree), if I remember correctly there will be two clergy who will stand with me, and the Bishop will invite those in the congregation who have been a part of this journey with me to stand as well. I won’t look back as I am kneeling forward, but as I have felt the presence of others all along this journey, I will feel it on that evening in that place and for that moment. So, here I am waiting again, but I don’t mind it as much this time. I want to celebrate the joy of this stage in the journey, and continued to be prepared for God’s ministry to which I have been called.