United Church of Christ

Installation

There is a sacred rite (if you are listening to this podcast, that’s r-i-t-e, not r-i-g-h-t) we perform in our denomination called a Service of Installation.

I attended one recently. It was a liturgy in which a newly called leader was installed into the position of Conference Minister.

These services are among my most favorite things to do in ministry. For one thing, everyone is happy. A new leader has been found. This leader always begins her ministry with a sense of hope and possibility. Those who called her to serve in the position chose her from among all others, and believe about her that her unique gifts, skills, vision, passion, talent set her apart from all others – and they, too, see hope and possibility.

The service of Installation is a way of saying “You belong here!” It grants a sense of permanence and belonging to what we all know is a temporary and transitional ministry. After all, someone is going to fill that position again at a later date and time no matter what the circumstances are that create the next transition. No one is thinking about that on the day of Installation.

But something else is going on in this liturgy that, along with and I think more importantly than the hope and promise of a new leader emerging, makes this such a powerful experience for me. And whatever that is has to do with what we refer to as

‘The Call.’

In our faith tradition, we don’t refer to positions that ministers fill as jobs, but as calls. Those of us who engage in ministry talk about receiving a call. There is something deeply and profoundly sacred about this. We do believe that the Holy Spirit is an engaged partner in the unfolding life, health, and vitality of the Church. She remains ever invested in decisions we make. When I worked in Conference Ministry and would meet with Search Committees looking for their next pastor, I would tell them “Your greatest ally in this process is the Holy Spirit.”

In all my ministry settings, I have had a clear and unmistakable moment of call to that ministry. Call stories by ministers remain among my favorite things to hear and listen to.

And the service of Installation is more than just saying to someone “This is your new job – do it well.” It is a way of affirming the movement of a Holy Spirit who participated with us in the process, and who called THIS leader to THIS place for THIS time.

Because we are a church that eschews hierarchical authority, and trusts that the Holy Spirit engages with us all – every call is tested by multiple audiences. The individual who will be installed has heard and affirmed the call from the Holy Spirit – but that is not enough. The calling body must affirm it, and they do so both by a team built to seek out the next leader they are looking for and then by presenting the candidate to the entire body for a vote. After that, an authorizing body that holds the standing of the minister, not one person but a team of leaders elected to serve for just such a moment as this, must also affirm the call. In fact, it is the authorizing body, not the calling body, that performs the act of Installation.

 

I celebrate this whole thing: the movement and engagement of the Holy Spirit, the art of discernment that requires prayerful contemplation, decisions made by individuals and then affirmed by multiple covenant partners. By the time of Installation, the call is owned as a community and celebrated by all. It is beautiful.

I offer thanks to God for the engagement of Her Holy Spirit in this process. May that same spirit abide with you, and in the abiding guide and direct your own steps through prayerful discernment. May your times of quiet of quiet contemplation find you hearing the voice of one calling out to you on this, your journey Into the Mystic.