One of the things I enjoy most about being in Chicago for my internship (and my whole seminary experience) is the network of ELCA clergy in the area. The Metro Chicago synod, being a handful of counties large, is quite small compared to most other synods, making it feel much more intimate and interconnected than, say, my home synod of two entire states.
And so, today the Metro Chicago Synod gathered on the north side of the city for a special mass. I'd estimate around 100 ordained pastors, deacons, associates in ministry, and seminarians were there, representing every corner of the ELCA's reach in Chicago and the suburbs. At this 'Chrism Mass,' the bishop blessed two enormous pitchers of oil (or chrism) to be used for anointing in baptismal and healing rites in all the congregations of the synod; the clergy and associates renewed their ministerial vows; and we all joined together in the great feast at the Lord's table.
My supervising pastor from my Ministry in Context (MIC) last year helped to coordinate this event, and so I joined fellow seminarians and interns in the good work of acolyting. And as the gathering hymn began and I carried the cross into the midst of the people, I began to think that think liturgy couldn't get much higher. Processionals, incense, beautiful music, genuflecting, a chasuble, dalmatics... the works.
I had been craving this kind of liturgy. I had gotten so used to it at my MIC site last year, and my internship site isn't quite as liturgical. In fact, I'd venture to guess that the majority of congregations in the synod aren't nearly as liturgical as the Chrism Mass today... which is why this sort of gathering is so important, especially on the Tuesday of Holy Week. Gathering with fellow clergy to renew vows, strengthen relationships, and experience God through these ancient liturgical practices really sets the stage for the marathon that we in the Church are about to run. It reminds us that we aren't alone in ministry. We have colleagues and friends close by, and we have the cloud of witnesses throughout time, to encourage us as we enter the most holy time in the Church calendar.
I hope that whatever synod I find myself in for my first call (and second, and third, and so on) will have the kind of support network that this synod does. This is, in a way, what Christian community looks like.