If you already know about it, maybe you’ll note something new here. If you don’t already know about it, well hey-here’s an opportunity to learn a little tidbit! There’s some content here that even may prove helpful in the normal course of life. For Christians, it could be good to know how ordination works. For folks outside the church, it could be of interest to see how the church commends each leader to their post.
To start, ordination is simply a faith community’s process to commission leaders for pastoral ministry.
I’m getting ordained in the Reformed Church in America, a Christian church network in the United States and Canada that has been continuously worshiping Jesus *stateside* for longer than any other denomination. Fun fact. It’s not a huge claim, but the church’s heritage is quite interesting. Dutch immigrant folks were meeting up for worship in New Amsterdam before the British came through, took over, and named it.. you know.. New York [City]. It’s a weathered yet stubbornly pioneering tradition that lives on in mission today, and throughout the world.
Notable members of the Reformed Church include:
Evel Knievel, Kyle Korver, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Van Buren, and..
[yes, *that* Geronimo!].
Enough about that. Back to ordination.
The best analogies that help us understand ordination are baptism and marriage. In baptism we are united with Christ-our old self is buried with him in the grave, and we are raised with him in his resurrection. Check out the first part of the New Testament book of Romans, chapter six, for more details on that. Or you can check out Colossians 2:11-15. Both books were written by the same guy, Paul, who as a Jew came to know the risen Jesus and gave his life [literally] to let others know about Him.
Important note: in both baptism and marriage we, the church, see God’s work and respond to it. The same goes with ordination; when someone is ordained, it’s people cooperation with something God has already been at work to accomplish.
Ordination is like marriage in that the pastor is committing her/himself to the church. Fortunately, the church commits herself to the pastor as well! My vows were quite serious, sort of like wedding vows. For example, one vow goes like this:
“I promise to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking the things that make for unity, purity, and peace.”
That’s a tall order. And if I shared more of the vows, you’d notice that this was on par with a lot of other pretty serious vows. I’ll let you take my word for it.
Ok, so ordination shares some commonalities with marriage. But it’s also similar to baptism, and ordination vows grow out of a person’s baptismal covenant [promises] whether the person was an infant, younger person, or adult.
I was baptized as a believer back in the year 2000. I was 13. God worked through a community of believers to bring me to a saving faith, and baptism was God’s action of uniting me with his Son, Jesus, and connecting me to the church. I was lost, then found. I was adopted. I was washed. I was accepted. Now, sixteen years later, I’m also commissioned.
If you’re getting ordained, you’re already baptized. You’ve already sensed a call toward vocational ministry, in my case, or maybe lay ministry for others. People who know you have also sensed the call within you, and encouraged you along the way. In ordination, the church affirms God’s already-existing call then commissions a pastor or lay leader to practice this ministry. Like baptism, there is submission to the authority of God as evident in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. But in ordination, the commission is more specific; instead of becoming part of the church, you take on a particular role within the church.
My own process began in 2014, when I came under care of a Reformed Church classis back in Grand Rapids, Michigan [a classis is a group of connected congregations]. Some amazing people helped me understand how the network of Reformed churches work together to live out the mission of God. I took classes, went to meetings, talked to lots of people, and read plenty of books. Then, I moved across the country to San Francisco and transferred classes [not school classes, but I switched to a different classis/group of churches]. Finally, leaders at City Church San Francisco will affirm God’s call in my life and commission me to continue leading a specialized ministry for young people within this community. In my case, the pastors and elders at City Church are also adding some new responsibilities for me once I’m ordained.
Oh-and I’ll wear a collar.
About that. So.. Janitors wear coveralls. Presidents wear suits. Baseball players wear hats and cleats. Pastors wear collars-at least some do, anyway. It’s a way for folks to know who the pastors are, and it’s especially helpful if someone is new to Christian faith or to the church. Most people get that clergy often wear collars. In the fairly unchurched city of San Francisco, it’s extremely helpful for newcomers [and even folks who have been around sporadically] to know who the pastors are, so we wear a little white band around the neck.
Pastors who have been in ministry for a long time tell stories about just how helpful the collar can be. For example, I recently read a short blog post by a pastor whose denomination required him to wear his collar on flights and to any ecclesial/church-related meetings. He initially resisted the notion, but after he wore it on flights, at city meetings, and in normal life, he discovered the collar to be extremely helpful. There was an awareness of his role. If he visited someone at the hospital, they understood he was there as a spiritual support. If he was at a city council meeting, they grasped that he represented a congregation who cared about the city. He even told a story about offering last prayers with someone on a plane as they came close to death. All this because the guy was identified via collar; he was wearing a culturally identifiable uniform.
There’s a potential downside to wearing a collar, too, in that a pastor can be perceived as somehow inhabiting a different category of human being. I don’t think that needs to be a huge problem, especially with a brief apologetic for the purpose of a collar. And that can easily be provided!
All told, I’m excited about my ordination. I also had no idea it would happen this quickly in my life journey! There are a lot of meaningful life events that I didn’t know would happen at the time they did, as it turns out, but I continue to see God at work behind all of it; I celebrate his work in the cosmos, in the world, in the church, in Jesus.
And even within little old me.