An ordination liturgy

Mundane Appreciation

In my perpetual hunt for liturgical resources that are theologically judicious (which means, among other things, being grounded enough in the earth as it is so as not to be spouting liturgical bullshit) – something which is not as easy a task as one might hope – I happened across this ‘Ordination Liturgy’ from the Methodist Church of Singapore:

We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.

We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.

We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.

We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.

We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.

We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Well put, Methodists!

 

On the cost and grace of parish ministry – Part XIII

In the two previous posts in this series, I have been reflecting briefly on the relationship between baptism and ordination. Both – and that together – are a divine summons to a life of discipleship. Here I want to suggest that we ought to understand ‘ordination’ not only in relation to baptism, but also in relation to God’s wider work of calling forth faith, to God’s work of guiding and enabling the whole community of faith, to God’s concern of shalom-making for all people. Ordination ought to be seen in the light of this broader movement of the divine will – that is, in the context of God’s good purposes for creation. So, the ministry to which a pastor is ordained is deeply and inherently about a life in God, and it means participation in that life, and in that life’s economy as it turns towards the world. This means that ordination makes no sense not only apart from baptism but – and more fundamentally – apart from Jesus Christ, and apart from his service to the Father on behalf of the world. So T.F. Torrance:

‘Christ was Himself the diakonos par excellence whose office it was not only to prompt the people of God in their response to the divine mercy and to be merciful themselves, not only to stand out as the perfect model or example of compassionate service to the needy and distressed, but to provide in Himself and in His own deeds of mercy the creative ground and source of all such diakonia. He was able to do that because in Him God Himself condescended to share with men their misery and distress, absorbed the sharpness of their hurt and suffering into Himself, and poured Himself out in infinite love to relieve their need, and He remains able to do that because He is Himself the outgoing of the innermost Being of God toward men in active sympathy and compassion, the boundless mercy of God at work in human existence, unlimited in His capacity to deliver them out of all their troubles’. – Thomas F. Torrance, ‘Service in Jesus Christ’ in Theological Foundations for Ministry: Selected Readings for a Theology of the Church in Ministry (ed. Ray S. Anderson; Edinburgh/Grand Rapids: T&T Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 718.

While it is fair to say that pastoral ministry in the contemporary West is attended by some unique pressures, including an increasing lack of clarity over the role of the pastor, none who have read any church history, let alone the Bible (think, for example, of brother Moses), could reasonably conclude that the concerns surrounding clergy ill-health and burnout to which I drew attention in the earliest posts in this series (I, II, III, IV & V) are problems foreign to earlier generations of ministers. Augustine, for example, once got so near to burnout that he had to turn away from his duties for a six-month sabbatical. In his book Augustine and the Catechumenate, William Harmless lists six factors that Augustine associated with burnout: (i) a failure to rely of the judgement of the faithful; (ii) boredom; (iii) the fear of making a mistake; (iv) an apathetic congregation; (v) the fear of being interrupted; and (vi) grief of heart (pp. 133–40). And one of the deep truths that Augustine reminds us of is that Christian existence is life-in-community, and with that community’s history, catechumenate and sacraments. It is these realities, Augustine believed, that tired ministers ought to turn to: to eat of the Body of Christ is to be refreshed; to drink of his Blood is to live (see, for example, his ‘Sermon on John 6.53’).

In more recent times, PT Forsyth has observed a ‘general sense of unrest’, of ‘inner unrest’ and ‘mental mobility’ of ministers, many of whom themselves are quite blind to the veracity of their own situations. ‘A very great number wish to change their sphere’, he said. Forsyth, who was a college principal, notes the lack of adequate training of ministers, and laments that some ‘leave college without the love or habit of Bible study; or without the reserve principles which come out to settle things in the most dangerous period, which is middle life; and so they devote themselves to nothing – beyond the weekly tale of work’. He continues:

‘In due course comes exhaustion and the “sinking feeling.” They have nothing in which they can collect and possess themselves from the tension and distraction of the place and the hour. They never arrive. And what they read adds to the dissipating effect. It is largely the newspapers, religious or other, or it is similar fugitive products; which is like reading the commentaries before studying the passage. That is to say, their mind is being bombarded with tiny particles of fact or fancy in a constant stream; and the vibration, largely unconscious at the time, accumulates to a chronic and mysterious unrest. How many would increase their peace and power of mind if they would eschew newspapers [and he may have added ‘the internet’] for a year. Yet to do it postulates the very power which is desired. Or if they were driven to more deliberate prayer in order to neutralize the atmosphere of criticism and mental dissipation in which a press age plunges them. For lack of it men may easily become dilettanti not in theology only but in soul, religious amateurs instead of spiritual masters, mere seekers, and experimenters instead of experts of the Gospel and adepts of faith. And our creed may come to suffer from what the doctors now call tea-ism – tremors due to the abuse of sedatives …

I have often found in my own case, too, that the preparation of sermon after sermon, with a constant change of subject, produced an effect of unrest. The mind loses the continuity, the self-possession, that belongs to stability and power. I have found I was apt to prepare my sermons better than myself. Is that an uncommon experience – to spend more on preparing a sermon than on preparing the message, and to spend least of all on preparing oneself for the total work of the ministry? It is with the preaching as it is with the prayer – the great and hard thing is preparing oneself, and preparing not for the occasion but for the vocation. Should the message not be the overflow of the preacher’s life experience, and the sermon the ebullition of the message?

I am sure the real and general secret of the unrest is spiritual, whether my diagnosis in detail be accurate or not; whether it be the case with each individual or not. The disease is secularity of interest. We imbibe much of it from the quivering age’. Revelation Old and New, 105–7.

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Other posts in this series:

On the cost and grace of parish ministry – Part XII

In my previous post, I spoke of baptism as ordination to ministry, seeking to bear witness to the reality that baptism speaks God’s word of life and God’s summons to a life of discipleship. All that follows – such as the practice in my own tradition of calling some to the ordered or ‘specific ministries’ of the church, what we call ‘ordination’ – is essentially functional. So Joseph Small in his fine essay ‘Ordination and Authority’: ‘Ordination to one of the church’s ordered ministries is not the simple recognition that a person possesses “gifts for ministry” or that a particular office suits a person’s abilities. Nor does ordination follow naturally from a person’s “sense of call.” Ordination is certainly not about access to position, influence, and power in the church. Instead, ordination is the church’s act of recognizing the movement of the Holy Spirit in the interactions among the church’s ordering of ministries, its standards for these ministries, and its current needs, together with prayerful discernment by persons, congregations, and presbyteries’.

Ordination means that ministers ought to take their primary ‘job description’ not from some local contract that he or she may have entered into but from their ordination vows, vows which are themselves grounded in baptism, that act of the Church which is grounded in the gospel. So there is something of a trajectory from the divine economy to local ordination (even though it is a trajectory that the Church and its ministers has very often misread and abused in the grab for power). This means that here in New Zealand, Presbyterian ministers must do the following:

  • Confess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord;
  • Believe that they are called by God and the Church to the ministry of Word and Sacrament;
  • Receive the witness of the Bible as the supreme rule of faith and life, and undertake to preach from the Bible in order to make Jesus Christ known;
  • Celebrate the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion with the people of God;
  • Accept that the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds witness to the core faith of the holy catholic Church, and accept the Westminster documents and the Kupu Whakapono and its accompanying Commentary as witnesses to the Reformed tradition of faith;
  • Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, commit oneself to the study of the Bible, to model one’s life and ministry on Christ, and to be faithful in prayer;
  • Share in the life and work of the Presbytery and the courts of the Church to uphold the doctrine, worship, government and discipline of the Church, and at all times seek its unity and peace;
  • Accept the call to minister to a particular parish and congregation.

Such vows provide shape and direction to – and place much-needed boundaries around – the task of pastoral ministry. Clearly there is nothing here about the need for ministers to be doing everything! So Brad Greenberg: ‘The big problem clergy have is the ability to say no … it’s only gotten harder in a world where pastors friend their flock on Facebook and are always reachable by cell call or text’.

In a recent sermon on Temptations and Triumphs of Ministry, Kenneth L. Carder properly recalled:

‘Baptism defines who we are, who our family is and what our ministry entails … Our primary calling, then, is to accept and live our baptismal identity! That is a ministry we share as laity and clergy. Ordination does not supersede baptism. Rather, it derives from baptism. And the bedrock calling of the ordained and commissioned is to support the baptized in living their identity in the world. There is no higher calling than our baptismal calling. Baptism has to do with our being as beloved daughters and sons of God: it is who we are. The glorious, triumphant news is that it is all a gift. We cannot earn our worth and relationship as God’s son or daughter any more than we earned our right to be born. Baptism is God’s affirmation, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Therefore, our worth lies in the One to whom we belong, and nothing can take that from us, not even death itself! And the glorious good news is that it is all a gift. We call it grace. Our basic identity and worth are not the triumph of our efforts. They are the free gift of God. In the words of the Epistle of First John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (3:1–2)’.

He continues:

‘Ordained and commissioned ministry is especially susceptible to trying to prove and earn our worth [i.e. to reject our baptisms and to embrace a self-constituted existence]. One means is by what one of my faculty colleagues at Duke calls “being a quivering mass of availability” – meeting people’s expectations and superficial desires rather than identifying the hungers that cannot be satisfied with bread. Or using the pastoral role to ingratiate ourselves to the masses so they will applaud us, validate our importance, and fill our need for praise and affirmation. The consequences can be catastrophic boundary violations and traumatic abuse of the pastoral relationship; and [this shadow] is often manifested in using congregations as steppingstones in career advancement, which is fleecing the sheep rather than shepherding them. A prayer that I have prayed almost every day of my 50 years of ministry is “Oh God, do not let me be unduly distracted today by either criticism or praise.”

The ministry offers numerous substitutes for baptism as our identity and ministry – size of church, titles, ecclesial positions. We are part of a culture that values worth on the basis of what we know, how we look, what we own, what we produce. Our appointments, salaries, attendance, budgets, ranking on the “work sheet,” political clout and awards become our identity. What we do replaces who we are; being is replaced with doing. Such proofs of our identity are like trying to fill our deep hunger to be somebody with bread made from stone.

Another deadly temptation is the abuse of power inherent in being called by God, confusing political and institutional power with love. Or, rather than being formed by the power of love, we are shaped by the love of power. The tempter showed Jesus the kingdoms of this world and said, “If you … will worship me, it will all be yours.”

Henri Nouwen reminds us that “one of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power – political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power.” He adds that “power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life”’.

As I have written elsewhere (in a reflection on 2 Corinthians 11.16–12.10):

Here is grace’s way – of Israel’s birth through a barren womb. Here is grace’s way – of the champion from Gath killed by Jesse’s youngest son. Here is grace’s way – of the Word taking on fallen flesh and stubbornly refusing to be fallen in it. Here is grace’s way – of ostracised women being commissioned as proclaimers of God’s good news. Here is grace’s way – that the deepest revelations of God are not given to the wise and understanding but to infants. Here is grace’s way – that God has a deliberate policy of positive discrimination towards nobodies, that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor and that the earth will be inherited by the meek. Here is grace’s way – love your enemies and bless those who make life hell for you. Here is grace’s way – of God making foolish and weak the wisdom and power of the world. Here is grace’s way – of God putting his treasure into jars of clay in order to show that God’s all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. Here is grace’s way – that only in humiliation do we find God exalting us, only in dying do we find God making us alive, only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. Here is grace’s way – of power being brought to an end in weakness. Here is grace’s way – that we might actually be more use to God with our thorns than without them. Only when I am weak, am I strong.

There is something else that is important to include at this point in this series of posts; namely, that the justification of the Church and of its ministry is not the work the minister. If and when justification is made, it will be the free act of God. At the very least, this truth should divert the Church away from the temptation to engage in those attempts which foster self-righteousness, smugness, and fact-denying illusion. So Richard John Neuhaus warns that pastoral ministry is not the Church’s office of public relations: ‘Our job is not to project a more positive “image” of the Church, as that term is used in the communications media. Our task is to take seriously the biblical images or models of the Church that illuminate the Church’s full mission as the sign of humanity’s future. As we take this biblical understanding of the Church seriously, there is ever so much in the empirical Church of which we must be relentlessly critical’. And Neuhaus proceeds to offer an ever-timely warning about collapsing the Church and the Kingdom of God:

‘Whatever else we may be guilty of, we are not guilty of the fact that the Church is not the historical consummation of the Kingdom of God. Far from our being embarrassed by the limitations of the existent Church, it is among our chief responsibilities to underscore the truth that the Church is not to be confused with the Kingdom of God. The Christian community points toward that Kingdom. In some important respects it anticipates that Kingdom. But the Church is as far in time from the Kingdom as is the whole creation of which the Kingdom is the universal future. The disappointment, discontent, and frustration that the world feels over its distance from perfection is also our disappointment, discontent, and frustration. In this sense, the Church is emphatically part of the world; indeed, as Paul describes it in Romans 8, the Church is the most restlessly yearning part of the whole creation. The difference is that we know the reason for the hope of perfection that is within us (1 Pet. 3). That reason is the preview or proleptic appearance of our hope vindicated in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Living in communion with him, we not only share but articulate and intensify the world’s discontent. Our gospel is not the gospel of optimism, which is, after all, simply a different way of looking at things. It is not simply an angle of vision but a new datum that we proclaim to the world. That datum, which is the message and life of Jesus, is the reason for the hope that is within us and, if only they knew it, the foundation and rationale of hope within all people. And so, because we do not pretend that the Church is the Kingdom of God, we offer no excuses for its not being the Kingdom of God. There will be no satisfactory Church, no Church that can be embraced without ambiguity, until the world of which the Church is part is satisfactorily ordered in the consummation of God’s rule. In short, we cannot get it all together until God has gotten it all together in the establishment of the Messianic Age’. – Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 23–4.

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Other posts in this series:

Baptism, ordination and God’s calling forth of faith

ServantBen’s recent post on Baptism and ordination reminded me of some stuff that Ray Anderson once prepared on the relationship between the two. Anderson cautioned that we understand ‘ordination’ not only in relation to baptism, but also in relation to God’s work of calling forth faith, God’s work of guiding and enabling the whole community of faith, God’s care for all people. Ordination must be seen in the light of this broader movement of the divine will – that is, in the context of God’s good purposes for creation. So, the ministry to which a pastor is ordained is deeply and inherently about a life in God, and it means participation in that life. This means that ordination makes no sense not merely apart from baptism but – and more fundamentally – apart from Jesus Christ, and apart from his service to the Father on behalf of the world. So T.F. Torrance (who is not a particularly great friend of Ben’s):

Christ was Himself the diakonos par excellence whose office it was not only to prompt the people of God in their response to the divine mercy and to be merciful themselves, not only to stand out as the perfect model or example of compassionate service to the needy and distressed, but to provide in Himself and in His own deeds of mercy the creative ground and source of all such diakonia. He was able to do that because in Him God Himself condescended to share with men their misery and distress, absorbed the sharpness of their hurt and suffering into Himself, and poured Himself out in infinite love to relieve their need, and He remains able to do that because He is Himself the outgoing of the innermost Being of God toward men in active sympathy and compassion, the boundless mercy of God at work in human existence, unlimited in His capacity to deliver them out of all their troubles. – Thomas F. Torrance, ‘Service in Jesus Christ’ in Theological Foundations for Ministry: Selected Readings for a Theology of the Church in Ministry (ed. Ray S. Anderson; Edinburgh/Grand Rapids: T&T Clark/Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 718.

Ben’s post, and the comments that follow (particularly those from the Revd Bruce Hamill who laments ordination ‘to a kind of generic “leadership” which covers all the bases of being a “professional Christian”), reminded me of a powerful essay that I read just last week by Dietrich Bonhoeffer wherein he warns against leadership becoming vested in the concept of the Leader (der Führer), where the humanity of the leader becomes concealed in a role:

Where there is community there is leadership … The group is the womb of the Leader. It gives him everything, even his authority. It is his person to which all the authority, all the honour and all the glory of the group is transferred. The Leader holds no office independent of the group. The group expects the Leader who derives from the group in this way to be the bodily incorporation of its ideal. This task, impossible in itself, is made easier for the Leader by the fact that the group which produced him now sees him already bathed completely in the light of its ideals. It sees him, not in his reality but in his vocation. It is essential for the image of the Leader that the group does not see the face of the one who goes before, but sees him only from behind as the figure stepping out ahead. His humanity is veiled in his Leader’s form … The Leader is what no other person can be, an individual, a personality. The relationship between those led and their leader is that the former transfer their own rights to him. It is this one form of collectivism which turns into intensified individualism. For that reason, the true concept of community, which rests on responsibility, on the recognition that individuals belong responsibly one to another, finds no fulfillment here. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘The Nazi Rise to Power’ in No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes from the Collected Works (ed. John Bowden; London: Collins, 1970), 191, 192, 195.

Now I really need to get back to my reading on Celtic Christianity … some of us have lectures to prepare.

Why Men Shouldn’t be Ordained

Poussin OrdinationEarlier this year, the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership hosted Robert Jenson in an informal but riveting round table conversation about the eucharist and mission. In the midst of the discussion, Professor Jenson made the comment that the ecumenical movement (at least at ‘official’ levels) has reached a standstill, and he named as the reason the ordination of women. [Seems like a good time to recall Balthasar’s words: ‘But the most important requirement for [the ecumenical] venture is that both partners in the dialogue have God before them and not behind them. All movement must be towards God, the depth of whose wisdom and mystery appears always to increase’. Who Is a Christian? (London: Burns & Oates, 1968), 39.]

Anyway, now Halden has reposted an absolute ripper from Linda on why men shouldn’t be ordained. In fact, it’s so good that I’m reposting it here as well:

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

And, in the comments, Kim Fabricius has added an eleventh reason: ’11. Jesus did not ordain men. He did not ordain women either, of course – but two wrongs don’t make a right’.