The Ordination I Never Could Have Imagined

by Rev. Kentina Washington-Leapheart

For a long time, I wasn’t quite sure I would ever be ordained.

When I enrolled in seminary, it was not because I felt called to be a pastor. Rather, I felt called to be in a place where I could satisfy my hunger for theological inquiry and engage my curiosity about life and death, joy and suffering, love and pain, and all of the ways that we try to make sense of these elements of the human experience.

I didn’t know what to expect from seminary other than that I would be changed — and I was. I am not the same green seminarian who stepped foot on campus in the fall of 2010. I am not the same person who graduated in the spring of 2013 or who completed a chaplaincy residency in 2014 during one of the hardest years of her life. I am not even the same person who moved to Philly 2 years ago, starting a new life in a strange city, blending my family, and making a significant vocational shift.

Sometimes all of the changing I have done — the deconstruction and reconstruction of my own theological commitments (or the lack thereof), moving from chaplaincy into faith-based nonprofit/movement work, together with my race, gender, and my sexual/relational identity — has made me feel rudderless and not quite sure where I fit in.

While I could have pursued ordination in a number of traditions over the years, I was clear that doing so would have required me to mute one or more pieces of myself to “fit.” I refused.

I believed there had to be another, more excellent and authentic way for me. And until I found that way, I would continue to do the work I had been called to do, leaning on friends and mentors for guidance, collegiality, and accountability.

Then came The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM).

I learned of Bishop Flunder as a “baby queer” trying to find my way out (literally and figuratively) during my last year of seminary. She, like Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey was another in-the-flesh example that people like me…like us… were possible, capable, AND *called.*

I came to know this fact even more deeply when I met my now-wife Naomi and when we later entered into a covenantal relationship with Bishop Flunder as our pastor and spiritual mother. It was then that I was formally introduced to TFAM’s doctrine of “radical inclusivity” and began to find my way home.

I am grateful for the ways the last several years have nurtured a mutual recognition of gifts and calling between myself and the Fellowship to which I now formally belong. From invitations to facilitate workshops at conference gatherings to the warm embrace our daughter Sophia received as she participated in TFAM Kids activities at her very first Convocation last summer, being a member of TFAMily is real, and all three of us have felt it both individually and collectively.

This summer, at the TFAM Leadership meeting, the day that I wasn’t sure would come did. I was ordained. Standing alongside Naomi, Bishop Flunder and a company of elders laid hands on us and ordained us for ministry.

For me, this was a holy, communal affirmation of the heart and hard work of the last eight years of my life.

While Naomi and I shared the uniquely sacred experience of being jointly ordained, our calls and fitness for ministry and ordination were and have always been evaluated on an individual basis. Our callings are complementary in so many ways, affording us both opportunities to work side-by-side and space to work individually in our particular areas of ministry. Our ordination vows were a great reminder of the need to be intentional about nurturing both. I love walking with her in this work and in this life. She is indeed the iron that sharpens me.

My organization’s amazing president (who, along with her wife, gifted me the beautiful stole that I wore during my ordination) asked me what it felt like to have hands laid on me by the powerful, prophetic leaders in TFAM, including our dear Bishop Flunder who not only laid hands on us but anointed our hands and feet (so many tears!). One of the things I remember most were the expressions of pure joy on the faces of those encircling us and seated in the sanctuary. Have you ever had someone look at you with delight in their eyes and a smile on their lips? Do you remember how it felt? That was what ordination felt like for me. Belonging. Delight. Serious. Solemn. Joyful. Hopeful. Familiar, yet new.

The irony is not lost on me that in 2016 and 2017, I received two letters (one anonymous, one signed) from individuals who essentially told me that who I am is incompatible with Christian teaching. One of those letters came exactly 2 years ago to the day of my ordination.

When I am reminded of those letters, I remember the sting. I remember the pain. I remember the tears.

And then I am transported to the day of my ordination, where the tears I cried were happy tears, joyful tears, sincere tears as I considered the weight of the yoke I now carry.

I am more than compatible. I am called.

No parts of me muted. All of me is welcome here. All of my queer self. My Black self. My woman self. My charismatic, Spirit-filled self. My contemplative self. My multifaith-sensibilities self. My intellectual, scholarly self. My questioning, doubting self. My faithful, sure self.

Even my silly self, which our wonderful rabbi Ariana made sure to play up in these photos. (We celebrated at a popsicle shop! How cool is that?!)

I am home. And I am ready.

Thank you Bishop Flunder.

Thank you, TFAMily.

Thank you to all of my friends, colleagues, pastors, rabbis, professors, and mentors across traditions and denominations who have been on this journey with me for a long time.

Thank you for seeing me, holding me accountable, and reminding me of all that I have been, all that I am, and all that I hope to be.

I look forward to continuing to serve alongside you as we seek to do our part to build a world of justice, love, and radical inclusivity.

Rev. Kentina Washington-Leapheart is Director of Programs for Reproductive Justice and Sexuality Education at the Religious Institute.