Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Importance of Ordained Ministry

In February, I suggested that everyone is ordained through baptism. It was my way of radically affirming the "priesthood of all believers." After reading this blog post, a friend of mine wrote a thoughtful response that challenged my post. Her reply was compelling, so I'm going to include it below:

Dear Brian,

I am not very familiar with the "emergent church," though the "church" surely has been emerging for 2000 years and will always need to do so. Fresh air, updated ideas and effective ways of connecting as community in the world, while remaining faithful to Jesus and his teachings, are needed with each new generation (probably more often). There is always work for the holy spirit in every age.

The attempt to understand and work with the idea and practices of ordination is one such issue for Christians/church people to address, especially when it touches you so individually. The priesthood of all believers, the value and need for the ministry of all Christians, is the context for the more particular step of ordination for some folks. There are a variety of important ways that people are dedicated, blessed, commissioned for their work in partnership with people who carry the yoke, responsibility, weight, privilege, etc. of ordination. The whole team has to be in the scene, some doing their part even without any special recognition by the group as a whole.

Ordination (or commissioning, blessing, etc) is something that the community grants/bestows upon a person: reflecting trust, expecting responsible fulfillment of tasks/activities, offering support to the ordinand, putting in place ways to have accountability, acknowledging special/specialized gifts/training, recognizing publically that person’s "call of God," invoking the holy spirit to be with ordinand and community in their shared life.

This is more complex than a "hierarchy" established by a head guru for a self-serving end. In the UCC this is bottom up in nature, not top down. And it is carried out and carried forward as Christ centered and God blessed, which keeps the playing field level for all in the community, including the ordained person. "Authority" moves back and forth, held by community, given to the ordained, ultimately belonging to God. What does that mean for structure? Clearly there are as many "structures" as there is human imagination.

As to the usual understanding of a pastor (ordained/named/commissioned) and "job" expectations, this example of "ministry" generally involves a wide variety of tasks/activities/skill sets in a (often more than) full time situation. In that way it is different than the valued ministries of all folks in a community that are usually particular (SS teacher, choir director, potluck coordinator, etc, etc) but not necessarily so all inclusive. And there is the expectation that the pastor is facilitator, encourager, trainer, supporter, educator, coordinator, communicator, uplifter, highlighter, etc. of folk in the community so they are able to grow in their capacities to minister in many/new ways. It can be that the size of the job is taxing/scary/overwhelming----a different issue entirely than whether ordination reflects some kind of false hierarchy that is problematic.

Our understanding of the sacraments and how they are to be shared is another part of the broader context in looking at the idea and practices of ordination. For sure, every potluck has the potential for being a holy meal, as is any time food is shared and fellowship is realized. And any time someone is welcomed into the community there may be a touch of baptism, as we greet each other in or out of church. We would do well to be more intentional in these ways in our daily life. Still, is there room for/need of intentional liturgy of baptism and communion (and other sacraments in some traditions) that is something other than our daily routines? What makes communion/baptism authentic or real, legitimate, right and proper? We would hope for more than a social/happy hour with communion and more than magic/voodoo for baptism. Again, the holy spirit is welcomed into whatever version of liturgy is current, and the community looks to the person they have ordained/granted the authority to speak the words. Exceptions happen in situations of crisis, emergency, etc. but it is good to have appointed times and places provided for the life of the community.

Hierarchy and ordination are not just present and/or problematic for the church. Versions of granting authority or authorizing "ministry"/responsibility happen in every human institution, sometimes better and sometimes less well. Pick anything. Education, the legal or justice systems, medicine, science and research, community life in towns, nursing homes, camps, etc, etc. Utopian communes are intriguing and sometimes thrive for a time, but human institutions abound (and need fresh air and reform regularly). Good luck to us with all of them as we work to keep them "faithful" and fair/just and effective. And in most of them individuals are expected to pull their own weight, make a contribution, respect the team effort (allowing for the caring of those unable to do so themselves).


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