Vow of Ordination

This is a short address from the Covenant Book of Worship, where the president of our denomination addresses the ordinands during the (service of) ordination to word and sacrament, what I’ll be hearing and saying tonight:

Dear friends, in response to God’s call and after spiritual and educational preparation, you have come to be ordained to the office of word and sacrament.  Having confessed your faith and spoken your vows in matters of faith and holy intent, I now call upon you to make your solemn promise in the presence of God and in this company of witnesses.

Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor, caring for God’s people, nourishing them in the preaching and teaching of the word, administering the holy sacraments, bearing rule in the church, and serving with the love and authority of Christ in bringing redemption and reconciliation?

After we say, “I will with the help of God,” the president addresses both orders of ordination (word and service and word sacrament):

We praise God for your commitment to serve Christ and his Church in the orders of word, service, and sacrament.  Serve patiently, cheerfully, and with compassion, remembering that the work you are called to is God’s work and that it is done in God’s name to God’s glory.  Follow Christ, whose servant you are.  Remember you are marked as persons who proclaim Christ crucified and risen, and you must be prepared to be what you proclaim.  Serve Christ simply and willingly, and let your joy in Christ overcome all discouragement.  Have no fear; be humble, yet bold and full of hope.

Questions, Papers, Interviews, & An Upcoming Ordination

“You haven’t seen the last of us.”  Those were the words of a member of the small group of people who interviewed me during the first part of last Saturday’s ordination interview.  I wrote three posts about my process toward ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church, which you can read here, here, and here.

Well, my final interviews were Saturday, which followed up from my earlier session at the Conference level in the fall.  Saturday I met with a group of four people for an hour.  They had seen my profile and all my applications.  They probably saw the summary of my progress in the denomination’s classes and read through the experiences I had listed from the last four years.  They pulled my paper up on their laptops and read through their highlighted questions. 

I was asked about my calling to ministry and about my theology of human sexuality.  They wanted me to talk about my understanding of congregational polity since I came from an African American church that was not of the same governing structure.  They asked about preaching, after having heard my sermon sample and read the evaluation from my church’s Leadership Team.  We talked about rest and what that looks like for me.  They complimented my paper, which made my day.

After that, I left, they discussed me, and called me back a half hour later into a room with four times as many people.  We all introduced ourselves and they asked me to answer one of the previous questions I had already answered so that part of the Board could hear me answer a question–the one about sexuality.  Then they asked about my recreational life.  I told them that my son was often entertaining, not always but often.  That was my best answer in the moment. 

They said that my interview and process were favorable, that they were recommending me for ordination.  They smiled and I did too.  It was our way of acknowledging that much work had been done.  I was nervous, though, because ordination really isn’t something to congratulate a person over as much as it’s a reason to pray for a person!  That’s probably why that group of pastors and leaders laid their hands on me and prayed.

Then I hopped onto the Blue line, went to my office, talked briefly with my pastor about random church things, and met with an engaged couple getting married this spring. 

Upon reflection, I think the words from that seasoned colleague stuck out the most.  You haven’t seen the last of us.  Looking at what ministry I’ve already done, and imagining what’s next, those are searching and encouraging words.  To me they mean that the ups and downs of pastoral leadership, the moments when words can’t be said or won’t be said, the frustrating times when you feel or are misunderstood–during those times–there is a community of people around you.  A group of coworkers in the larger Church that you can look around for and find.

A Part of Something

Yesterday I sat for my first interview for ordination in the Evangelical Covenant Church.  I’ve written a few posts about it.  One of the many things I’m thinking and appreciating about this process is the reminder that I am a servant in a local church that is a part of something larger, a Church that is inclusive of more than the local group of people I see, interact with, and serve. 

After being called into the room, I met four folks who had all my forms, papers, and applications.  Their faces were knowing and humble, and I could tell that they had been thoughtful and prayerful that morning.  I looked around the table at the face of a man I knew from several conversations, a man I’d met once when I led a retreat for his church earlier this year, a woman whose face was familiar but who I couldn’t recall meeting, and another man who I knew only by name and good reputation.

As the conversation came and went, we talked about my call, about my role and what I’m learning at New Community.  We discussed how I came to my church and where I’ve grown in my own view.  They mentioned the evaluation from my church and pointed out several pieces in my paper.  We talked about ways to serve and further get to know our denomination.  They reminded me that our work as ministers was both to our local churches and to the broader group within our denomination.

It was a kind reminder.  

One of my favorite authors is Gerald May.  I’m reading Will and Spirit.  Very slowly.  It will take me at least a year to process this book so if I mention in 2012 that I’m reading Will and Spirit, don’t be surprised!  Dr. May anchors the book in a distinction between willingness and willfulness.   

Willfulness is manipulative.  It is what we’re used to in culture, what pulls us away from being aware of who we are and what we’re addicted to.  Willfulness is setting ourselves a part of what we are naturally a part of.  It is the hard attempt to direct, control, and master existence.  Willfulness is the opposite of living by grace or living because you have been given something.

Willingness is on the other hand.  It is surrendering oneself to what is.  It is entering into, immersing one’s life into life, realizing “that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process.”  He says, willingness is the commitment to be in the process of life.  The commitment to be a part of something bigger that already is.

My interview was a recent reminder of some of this good stuff May is bringing up.  Any thoughts?

I Hope They Ordain Me, pt. 3 of 3

As I said in the first post, I am working on a paper as a part of my ordination process.  I like papers.  I haven’t always.  In fact, it took a conversation and a graded essay from Dr. Timothy Boddie, then English professor at Hampton University, before I started to like writing.  Dr. Boddie told me something simple but life-changing.  He said–and this isn’t spectacular literally–that I was a good writer. 

I couldn’t take his words too far.  It was my first semester.  I had many more essays to write.  He knew that.  He knew that he was first complimenting or commenting on the work in front of him.  He was speaking more to potential than to evidence.  But.  That conversation changed the way I look at myself and at writing.  Suddenly it was something I could do.  Writing was something I was maybe even good at.

I’ve written a few papers since that conversation as a freshman at Hampton.  As I look at this essay for my ordination, I’m thinking, “I’ve done this before.”  I’ve done it in seminary and other places.  So I look forward to pulling thoughts down next week into some form.

It’ll give me another chance to articulate what I think, why I think it, and how it looks in the context of a church setting.  I’m not working in the academy but in a congregation.  In the congregation, everything a pastor does–not quite everything–should has some meaning, significance, or relevance to the mission of that church.  Knowing for the sake of knowing, producing knowledge alone, doesn’t work.  Knowledge ties to doing and being.  So I’m looking forward to those paragraphs between next week and the September 1 deadline.

If you had to summarize what you believe–about faith, about life, about love, about anything that matters–how would you start?  What stories would you tell?  Who would be the indispensable characters in those stories?

I Hope They Ordain Me, pt. 2 of 3

I started these posts by talking about a few reasons I want to be ordained.  This short post goes into some detail about how the ECC (or the Covenant) goes about ordaining folks.

The denomination educates ministers at North Park Theological Seminary.  For folks who study there, the process is slightly different.  For people in shoes like mine, there are other steps.  Part of the Covenant’s process includes taking classes ( 7 of them when I started, though that’s been changed to 4 classes nowadays) to orient people to the denomination; participating in particular experiences like retreats and conferences; reading books; attending Annual meeting and Midwinter; and connecting with other pastors inside the denomination.  People are also expected to be supervised by a mentor who is already ordained and serving in the denomination.  I should also say that to be ordained to what’s called “Word and Sacrament” in the Covenant, you need to have a MDiv.  That’s a thorny issue for some, but I’ll come back to that in a few days.

As I said, these steps are a bit different if you attend our denomination’s seminary, but since I went somewhere else, I had to take supplemental courses and so forth.  The classes were good because I knew nothing about this denomination before accepting my role at New Community.  I was familiar with a few Covenant churches but that was it.

Further, the process above is very different from the one I went through in my first experience of ordination.  Each denomination is different.  Some ordinations are done through the local church only (like my first ordination).  Usually Baptist and independent churches are in this category.  Others are through connectional systems, also known as denominations, like the United Methodist Church or the Church of God in Christ.  The Covenant is an example of the latter.

If I have a successful interview, if my paper doesn’t raise too many red flags, if all the reports and signatures concerning me come back positively, I will present myself before our Conference (a collection of churches in geographically close states) in the spring, talk about myself, and they will hand me off to the Annual meeting to be voted in.  I’m omitting one or two things, but those are the basics.

Perhaps this post is completely irrelevant to you, and if you read it only to find that irrelevancy, you’re a great visitor to this blog!