Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reflection on a decade of ordination

July 25, 2004.

Orthopedic shoes.

That's what I saw when I opened my eyes.
A crowd had gathered around me to offer a prayer of blessing.  It came at the end of my ordination service, which happened ten years ago today. 

The shoes belonged to our seminary's emeritus professor of biblical languages, the Rev. Dr. Henry Moeller.  An elder American Baptist minister, he kept up in retirement with teaching for many years, including the two introductory units to Biblical Greek and Hebrew.  He attended my ordination and happened to be the closest person to me when I moved to the middle of the sanctuary to kneel in the middle of the aisle.

The idea was to have the whole congregation involved in the prayers of ordination, reflecting the Baptist affirmation of ministry being carried out by the priesthood of all believers.  Ordination comes from the midst of the people for Baptists, given our Free Church ecclesiology.  So, with the clergy, congregants, seminary faculty, denominational officials and gathered family and friends, I found myself looking at a pair of orthopedic shoes when I opened my eyes, and I realized that Dr. Moeller's hand had been the one gently placed on my head just after I settled into the kneeling position on the middle aisle carpet.

As I look back at the last ten years, I am reminded of the itinerant nature of ministry.  For example, I am writing these words while living in Albany, New York, spending most of this decade in ministry away from my native Kansas.  Over the past decade, I served around Kansas City as a bi-vocational minister and a seminary adjunct instructor in theology.  In 2006, we moved to Vermont where I served as an intentional interim minister (a three year call that morphed into another four years working with a church struggling with transition).  And a year ago, I began serving in a Regional ministry capacity in upstate New York. 

I am deeply hesitant to describe any of that last paragraph in terms of "career path".  It has and always will be about pastoral vocation, the call to serve Christ and the Church.  I give thanks for the past ten years, even as I can note like any pastor the sometimes crazy hours, the stress and fatigue and the challenging times where I found myself in the midst of doubt. 

By and large, churches have declined over the past decade, though at least we are more able and willing to talk about it.  Even back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it did not seem we were as ready to speak about smaller churches as more normative, let alone the realities at hand where part-time is the primary way most ministers are serving churches.  The Atlantic Monthly published an article earlier this month on the realities facing ministers, especially those just entering into the ministry:

Vocation is a life long pursuit, making ministry more of an ongoing story, a plot where doubt and faith interplay and intertwine.  I do not necessarily know where I am going (don't we all?), yet I am glad to be in the midst of a life that is also in the "business" of serving and enriching the spiritual life of fellow believers. 

And along the way, we are reminded of the way the sacred appears in strange and wondrous ways, encounters with orthopedic shoes included.

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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