On Sunday my son-in-law, Anthony Damelio, was ordained at Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. I was honored when Anthony invited me to give the “Charge to the Newly Ordained.”
As your father-in-law, Anthony, my charge to you on the occasion of your ordination is born of blood, the vows of marriage, and the blessed obligation of children—those would be my grandchildren (but no hurry on that account).
My charge is, simply: remember that you are a husband, and, should you and Sharon one day be blessed with the gift and heritage of children, that you are a father.
A wise cleric once told me, “Before God called you to be a priest, David, God called you to be a husband, and then a father.” Those callings are primary, and sacred. Nothing of God’s subsequent call to ordained ministry supercedes the deeply human vocation of manhood, of womanhood. This is first.
I don’t mean some sentimental charge to be a “family man.” (As you know, most of what Jesus has to say about the nuclear family will curl your hair.) What I do mean is, Be a man first. Be a husband first. These are primal callings. Attend first to these vocations, and then you will have an authentic ministerial calling.
In his latest book—I read just this week—Bill Plotkin estimates that only 15% of Americans have crossed into mature, initiated adulthood. All the rest are stuck in what Plotkin calls a “patho-adolescent” culture that lacks the wisdom of initiated men and women elders.
So think of it—only 15% of so-called “adults” are actually adults. And let’s be really generous and optimistic and estimate that American clergy are twice as likely to make that journey to wisdom and understanding. That means 30% of clergy are adults. What good is it, I ask you, to pursue a calling to ordained ministry if you haven’t wrestled with what it means to be a man, a woman? And, contrariwise, if you do attend to your primal calling, the ministry just happens. It emerges authentically from the life you live. Your people will know it. They will seek you out.
On January 19th, 1897, Mark Twain wrote a beautiful, heavy-hearted letter from London to the Rev. Joseph Twitchell in Hartford, Connecticut. He was his pastor and closest friend of 40 years. Twain’s twenty-four year-old daughter, Susy, had died of meningitis the previous summer, and he would forever regard it as the most devastating loss of his life. He had been traveling overseas and missed her final days. Twain writes of how his daughter’s death has broken his heart, and of how so many friends simply do not have the emotional depth to attend him on this journey through the valley of the shadow. He writes to the pastor who married him, who baptized his children,
“I do not want most people to write [to me], but I do want you to do it. The others break my heart. But you will not. You have a something divine in you that is not in other men. You have the touch that heals, not lacerates. And you know the secret places of our hearts. You know our life—the outside of it—as the others do—and the inside of it—which they do not.”
A real pastor knows the “secret places of our hearts,” and that “inside” knowledge comes not from being declared an official pastor, but by steadily becoming a man or a woman.
This is why I charge you to look homeward, Anthony. Because home is the place of those primary relationship, those primal callings. To love one woman, day in and year out, until you know the beauty and power of surrender; and—here I go hoping again—to love and care for children even when they’re coughing and puking all night, to learn simply how to give yourself up for love, with no hope of return. If there’s a better proving ground for the soul, I don’t know what it is. If there’s a better way to know “the secret places of our hearts” I don’t know it.
So, Anthony, remember that your first calling is to be a man, then to be a husband, then one day perhaps a father. Then after that, to be a pastor. If you answer those primal calls, you will continue your already remarkable progress toward ordained ministry in the church. You will be truly a pastor. And—what is even richer, something you would not trade for all the plaudits the church could ever heap upon you for some illustrious career—you will look Sharon in the eye in thirty or forty years, and just maybe the eyes of those kids Pam and I, and Tony and Marillyn are mildly hoping for, and their answering gaze will say of you:
“Here is a husband; here is a father; here is a man. Here also, by the way, is a pastor.”
Chris Fralic says
A most excellent charge, indeed.
This is a charge for all who would be men. Powerful, David.
If I were Tony I wouldn’t need to hear another charge, ever. Elegant in its simplicity, fiendishly difficult to master. Build a solid core in yourself, establish a right relatiohship with those closest to you, then you might have somnething worthwhile to give away to others. David, I love this theme you’ve explored with us.
Pam Anderson says
As your wife of 34 years, I can say of you, ““Here is a husband; here is a father; here is a man. Here also, by the way, is a pastor.” Well done!
clark johnson says
David, so very elequent abd so basic at the same time! Woould that we could all help all to be rela man and real woman Thank yiu clark
I was at the ordination and heard your charge, but to read it again — so powerful. Anthony is blessed to have you as a mentor.
Yes, this was quite eloquent and powerful and so David. Tony will always remember your charge. Wish I has been there!
Liz Anderson says
Thank you for that reminder about what it means to be a grown up and a pastor.
beautiful, David! Dad forwarded this on to us. So, so true.
I’m putting a copy of this in my two sons-in-law’s Father’s Day cards! Still thinking about it. Surely applies to mothers, too!