You have been called: The Order for Consecrations and Ordinations

June 27th, 2023

This article is the eleventh article in a series we're calling "A Good and Joyful Thing: A series on liturgical spirituality." We hope this series takes you on an imaginative “travelogue” at various worship services in a local United Methodist church where the liturgy is treasured. We hope that these resources will accentuate how the Wesleyan “religion of the heart” can be fostered by liturgical experience in the richness of our liturgy, both for United Methodists and others who follow the deep flow of the church's worship history.

You are tired this evening, because this was the big day, at conference, when you and others were ordained.  Here’s what’s on your heart and mind as look through the worship folder and reflect on the service.

It was a long service, but your spirits were high. After three years of seminary education, your first appointment, meetings with your district and conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and probationary membership, you had been waiting for this day. It felt good to walk in the procession through the conference assembly, singing “Lord, You Give the Great Commission” (UMH 584). It was a day for vestments and red stoles and banners, a meal together before the service with your pastoral colleagues, the group picture for the journal. 

Ordination day euphoria lingers tonight, but the lovely red stole placed around your neck earlier could feel like it was made of iron. This business of ministry is responsibility, tending to souls, which must include your own. As the hymn put it: “…amid the cares that claim us, hold in mind eternity.” There will be many cares, from the unprepared sermon (so because the week’s readings are particularly vexing), the difficult Finance Committee meeting, to being present with those in suffering and need. It’s all ministry, and it’s not devoid of joy and gladness, either. Peripheral issues make it easy to lose sight of the core, what makes ministry what it is. The ordination service provides a way to sort all of that out. 

So, taking off your shoes, you prop up your feet and take the worship folder in hand and browse through it, looking back over the ordination service you just participated in a few hours ago. What liturgical words jumped out at you that might give you coordinates for a pastor’s spirituality? Here are a few:

Ministry is the work of God,
done by the people of God.
Through baptism
all Christians are made part of the priesthood of all believers,
the church, Christ’s body, made visible in the world.
We all share in Christ’s ministry of love and service
for the redemption of the human family and the whole of creation.

You recall how the bishop stood next to the font as she said those words. A deacon poured water into it, and the episcopal leader scooped the water with a shell and let if fall back into the bowl. Maybe the soundtrack of ministry is the sound of splashing water, the constant reminder that baptism creates that royal priesthood of which you are a servant. You have not been set above nor below the people of God you will serve. Ordination is a setting beside them, in their midst. As such, your ministry is representative, an icon of Christ among other icons. You may be an elder now, but you were already a priest along with everyone else in the church, beloved child of God, marked with the cross of Christ, one in whom the Holy Spirit has been at work already since those baptismal waters rolled over you.[1]

Your vocation is God’s work, not yours. This isn’t your project, “your best life now,” or your chance to climb the ladder of ecclesial success. First words spoken set the tone for what follows. The invocation spoken from the font at the beginning of the service reminds you that ministry is mutual, done side by side with others, lay and clergy, with differing gifts and grace, but a common call issued from the font, apart from which ordination makes little sense. 

After the readings and the sermon, each order of ministry—those being commissioned, the orders of deacons and elders, the recognition of those with orders from other traditions, and associate members—was examined. You look again at the words that describe your ministry as an elder:

An elder
is called to share in the ministry of Christ
and of the whole church:
to preach and teach the Word of God

Here a large Bible was lifted by an assistant.

and faithfully administer
the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion;

Here a paten and chalice were lifted.

to lead the people of God in worship and prayer;
to lead persons to faith in Jesus Christ;
to exercise pastoral supervision,
to order the life of the congregation and the connection,
to counsel the troubled,
and declare the forgiveness of sin;
to lead the people of God
in obedience to Christ’s mission in the world;
to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people;
and to take a responsible place in the government of the Church
and in service in and to the community.
This is the rule of life and work of an elder. 

There it is again: this is Christ’s ministry in which you share. The classic Reformational definition of the church was where “…the pure Word is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered.”[2] Word and Table! The church is a people gathered around story, bath, and meal. You are now a steward of those holy mysteries. If Word and Table is the sun, then everything else you do, including hours of visitation, counseling, declaring forgiveness to the repentant, calling the self-satisfied to repentance (including yourself), and, yes, Finance Committee meetings, are rays of that sun. It’s all an extension of proclamation and sacramental celebration, the heart and soul of the church and Christ’s ongoing presence in the world. The daily round of a pastor’s work is not just “one thing after another,” or a matter of being “a quivering mass of availability” as Stanley Hauerwas put it.  It is, itself, the liturgy, and the liturgy that follows upon it, a service of “taking a responsible place in the government of the church” (Entrance, i.e., the gathering of the church as a body) listening and speaking, leading persons to faith in Jesus Christ (Proclamation and Response) seeking justice, peace, and freedom for all people because of the regular meal you celebrate as a feast of victory (Thanksgiving and Communion), and service in and to the community (Sending Forth). The liturgy calls this a rule of life and work, something which orders and gives shape to the calling. 

As Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart,” (Lk 2:19) perhaps you should, too, especially on days when ministry is tough. Here is what is central. Ministry isn’t whatever you make it. 

You reflect back on this service full of much symbolic action and clothing. The bishop’s hands: sometimes outstretched, sometimes laid upon heads. Your hands: filled with a Bible, a Book of Worship, a Discipline (the chalice, paten, and baptismal shell called for in the rubrics were lifted before the assembly at the appropriate point), reminders of what’s central to ministry. The deacons receiving their diagonal stoles, and you and other elders receiving yours.

You have been called, as the General Examination in the service put it. But it's getting late. Time for sleep. Take care of yourself, too, dear pastor. Ground yourself by thankfully remembering your baptism each day. And then, remember Wesley’s admonition, too, as another way to think of all the rays of ordained ministry extending from the Word and Table core: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”

[1] UMH p. 37. 

[2] Article XIII, Articles of Religion of the [United] Methodist Church.

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