An Ordination Anniversary -- 37 Years Later -- a Reflection


It was thirty-seven years ago today that I was ordained to the ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Temple City Christian Church in the Pacific Southwest Region.  Unfortunately, that congregation no longer exists. However, during my final year of seminary, the church nurtured my sense of giftedness for ministry and allowed me to spread my wings, though at the time I assumed I would go on to a more academic form of ministry. I planned to get a Ph.D. and then teach, hopefully at a seminary. I didn't envision becoming a pastor of a local congregation. Last year, about this time, I completed twenty-three years of local church ministry. Though my retirement officially began on July 1, my final Sunday at Central Woodward Christian Church, where I served for thirteen years, came on June 13th.  

Ordination Participants -- June 9, 1985

So, on that Sunday evening in early June 1985, I began the journey that has led me to this point in life. Among those participating in that service were members of the Temple City church, its interim pastor, Tom Toler, the Regional Minister Charles Mallotte, a local Lutheran pastor, Margaret Duttera, and Ed Linberg, who offered the sermon. Ed had started out as supervisor of my internship but took up a new ministry part way through my internship. For a while, after Ed left and until Tom Toler arrived, John Hull and I carried the load for a few months, with both of us serving as Assistant Pastors. John was a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University and I was finishing my M.Div. at Fuller Theological Seminary. My ordination took place a day after I received my  M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. Both the graduation and the ordination were important events in my life, perhaps more important than I realized at the time. As noted above, I planned on getting a Ph.D. and then teaching. I got a Ph.D. in 1991 and did a bit of teaching, but that would not be my career path. 

What follows is a reflection I wrote in 2010, at the moment of my 25th ordination anniversary. At that point, I had only been at Central Woodward for two years, with another eleven to follow before my retirement. In that reflection, I shared a word about how I envisioned ordination to a representative ministry. Though written more than a decade ago, I think it still carries meaning. So, I invite you to read on.


As I consider my ordination on this anniversary day, I thought I might reflect a bit upon what it means for me and for the church at large. For, if as I believe, we are all, as baptized Christians, all priests of God called to engage in the ministry of God, with Jesus as our high priest, then pastoral ministry might best be defined as a representative ministry. The pastor could be seen as the bearer of the call to ministry that all Christians participate in. Standing in the pulpit or at the table, the pastor is not only a representative of God (as one who inspired by the Spirit speaks for God) but also as the representative of the people, sharing a message in word and sacrament that emerges from within the community itself.

By thinking of pastoral ministry as a representative ministry, we start with the premise that all ministry is important. No Christian is by virtue of their office holier than any other. There may be a difference in roles and even charism, but not importance to the health of the body. The calling of pastoral leadership is not to do ministry for God’s people but to equip and encourage the congregation in its ministries (Eph. 4:11-13). The goal of pastoral ministry is to help God’s people reach maturity in Spirit, and that maturity leads to acts of service – the good works prepared for us by God.

Our ordination to ministry occurs in our baptisms, an act of grace that sets us apart for service to Jesus Christ. Ordination, on the other hand, orders the lives of some for specific areas of service. It is the public recognition that some from among the body are called to a representative ministry of preaching, teaching, sacrament, and pastoral care. Although God calls people to this ministry, the church has the responsibility to affirm this call and publicly confer on this person the authority of this office.

In ordaining a candidate the church also promises to hold the ordinand accountable to this calling. Although there are no double standards in Christian ministry, the church should expect that the ones upon whom they confer this title of pastor will hold themselves to the highest standards of behavior, that they will seek to understand the faith in such a way that they may might teach and equip others (making it imperative that those called to ordained ministry pursue some form of education/training such as the traditional M.Div. programs). Having had hands laid upon them, ordained pastors (my preferred title) stand as representatives of the church they serve and lead By extending the hands of ordination on candidates, the church declares to the broader church and the community at large, that this woman or man has been found to have the requisite gifts and calling to serve the church at large as pastors and teachers.

Though many clergy claim to have felt God's leading, God's call on their lives, without the discerning affirmation of the church that sense of calling may be little more than a delusion. The church is charged with discerning both gifts and calling, and then support those called and gifted to fulfill this calling (if calling is the correct term here). Whatever the nature of one's calling, I stand here today the product of a community of communities who saw gifts for ministry and encouraged their development and usage. Thanks be to God!

I maybe "retired" but I'm still active in the ministry of the church!


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