United Church of Christ

With Thanks for the Ordinand

I spent the weekend at a church in Maryland. It was a delight. There is something about visiting healthy churches with gifted pastors that just fills me with joy and hope.

But that isn’t what I want to write about. As the service ended, the pastor announced that she had a flight to catch and could not stay for lunch and the workshop that would follow.

Later that evening, I got a text from her. She was halfway across the country, having just attended the Ordination of a young man who was a youth in one of her previous churches. THAT is what I want to talk about.

Now 30 years into my own ministry, I am still in awe at the way the Spirit moves to call forth young leaders and invite them into a life of labor on behalf of the Church and in service to the gospel. I am also in awe at how very talented, gifted, and visionary leaders say yes to this invitation.

Ministry doesn’t promise a life of ease, luxury, money, fame. It often guarantees long hours, low wages, disgruntled parishioners, conflicting points of view, projected blame from others unwilling or unable to deal with their own misgivings and shortcomings, and a host of other less than attractive qualities that assemble whenever we deal with large groups of people.

A wise mentor once told me there is only one reason to say yes to your call to ministry: and that is because you can’t do anything else.

That is not about ability. It is about the affirmation of call.

When the Spirit touches your heart and says “It is you I have chosen to send into ministry, “ something happens inside you that you can neither ignore nor run away from. The prophet Jeremiah writes of this when he says he tried to stop speaking the word God gave him. He was tired of spending his life doing that only to have the people to whom he was sent ignore it. Eventually, as he describes it, that Word sat like a burning coal in his belly until he had no choice but to vomit it out.

Those are pretty graphic words, but those who have felt the call of God tug at them understand it. You do this because when the call comes, you can’t do anything else.

Given what those of us who engage in ministry know about it, two things happen when a young leader whom we have pastored feels a call to ministry and is ordained. First, there is a tremendous sense of pride. Second, there is a never-ending sense of responsibility to mentor that leader into and through her time in ministry.

And so when the pastor announced yesterday at the close of her own worship that she would miss the rest of the day’s activities, no one questioned why she had to go. One of her former youth was getting ordained that day in another part of the country – and she wasn’t going to miss it. And she didn’t.

I give God thanks for Her ongoing care of the Church. At its best, the Church is leaven in the loaf, filling the bread of humanity with love and peace and joy and grace and hope. Part of God’s ongoing care for the church is the calling forth of leaders in each generation to spend a lifetime in service to, within, and for it.

I am also filled with gratitude for those who say yes to their call, and for those who mentor them along the way.

If your faith has been enriched by one of these remarkable leaders called into service for the good of others, I invite you to give thanks for her. We are all enriched by those who spend their days toiling in the ministry, engaging us and opening up for us new pathways to our sacred on this, our journey Into the Mystic.