Word of the Week

Ordination Outside the Church

Yesterday on the Deeper Story, my friend Joy posted a beautiful story about her ordination while on a mission trip to Sri Lanka. It was a huge coming out for her not only because what she shared was a personal, but because of fear of what it meant to say that she, a woman from a tradition that does not ordain women was ordained and not in a church.

I hope you'll take a break and read it here.

The theology behind such an ordination was that ordination is about affirmation of what God has already done is and doing in a life. Quoting the words of Rev. Luther Lee who presided over the ordination of one of the first women ever to receive such, Joy tells us that these words were a part of her ordination service:

"We are not here to make a minister. It is not to confer on this our sister a right to preach the gospel. If she has not that right already, we have no power to communicate it to her."

Upon reading this, immediately thought about all the women in my life who are "pastors types" like me but have never been ordained and maybe never will be.

Some of these women come from traditions that don't support women in ministry. They stay planted even in their less than supportive denominations because they know they are called to serve (even if their contributions are never recognized).

And some come from family and life situations where ordination just never happened. They would have loved to attended seminary, taken ordination exams, been confirmed by church boards, but they had other callings on their life too. So, they just served without being given such a title.

The ministry of these women I know inspires me. It challenges me. And I feel a sense of collegiality with them. Though they might feel inferior at first to me because I have seminary degree (ridiculous really that we have to have these barriers), in the end it matters little. If at all. From where I sit, we are sisters. We know what it feels like to be called by God to teach, to care for and even preach to those in need a word of good news. Pastors are just who we are.

Does this mean I am anti-traditional ordination like that which I received? The kind where a person finishes seminary, writes papers, sits before boards to talk about theology and then has a service of laying on of hands in a church when the whole process is said and done and ready to be affirmed by a community.

No. I'm not. I think theological education is important. The longer I am in ministry the more the words of James 3:1 ring in my ears: "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." To teach or preach is serious business and those of us who do it need to make sure we're studied up!

Furthermore,  it's good to be blessed by a community of faith that has watched your growth and cheered you on. It's good to have the support of the of those in whom you will soon lead.

And in all of this, the church needs more ordained persons-- persons willing to stand up and say the bold thing that their life is not their own and that they will use their gifts to serve all of God's people.

My ordination service over seven years ago and the responsiblity of minister that came out of that is so very important to the person I believe God wants me to be. I wouldn't change the whole getting ordained in the church part for anything.

But, as a church we have to realize that while our processes are in place and good, they are equally broken.

Our communities affirm many, but often leave out others equally called. Our circles of affirmation liturgy need to enlarge.

Ordination is a gift to the church, but not for the sake of the church only. God calls some to ministry that may take place 100% outside of the church's walls.

Ordination rules and regulations were not given to Moses on golden tablets, but have come through years of tradition. Sometime our traditions need to take new directions.

I'm proud of the courage of my friend, Joy and the freedom in which she is speaking about her calling. I know her courage is already inspiring countless others. And that there are other women (and men) like Joy who are expressing (and will be expressing) call to ordination in the near future-- ordination that will serve the mission of Jesus Christ but may not look like what we've always known.