Standing on the shoulders of giants

August 30th, 2016

The other day I was given a gift, a gift I had seen for almost a decade but never thought I’d receive for myself. I received a silver ring with the United Methodist cross and flame emblazoned on the face of the ring. I’ve always wanted one, but this one has even greater meaning: it was present the night I received my call to ministry. My mentor was wearing it during the first annual conference I attended. At the ordination service when Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey laid his hands on my mentor and said, “Take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments and to order the life of the Church, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” I was a puddle of tears. My friend looked at me and said “One day that will be you.” I remember praying that night it would be.

I tell you this story of receiving the ring and the night I was called to ministry because I have been fortunate to receive countless tokens of ministry from my mentors. From stoles to rings, books to Bibles, I have been the recipient of a grand ministry legacy. Why is that important? Because we, who are recipients of such legacies, must never forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants.

They aren’t giants because they have it all figured out or were always right, they are giants because they took seriously their commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, their vocational identity and their love of neighbor. We must never neglect to do the same. For one day, we, the younger generation, will be passing on our stoles, books, artwork and Bibles to the next generation. I wonder what posterity will say about us?

The reality is in our time and place the thing we call the institutional church isn’t what it used to be and won’t be what it is 20 years from now. It is paramount for young clergy and seminarians to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Student loans, ordination processes and denominational squabbling may seem like insurmountable odds. But ultimately, we serve a God that surmounted the grave and a church that has survived for two millennia. With that in mind, my generation must think long term to be the shoulders for the next generation of Christian clergy and laity.

So it’s my hope that we take the lessons we learn from our mentors and put them to use. The ring I was given doesn’t fit yet; it’s a little big. It needs to be re-shaped and polished, and I have to grow into it. Perhaps that’s a lesson in the realities of committing the preceding generation's time to posterity and the great chain of the ages. For whatever lesson it teaches, I’m thankful for that ring and the shoulders I stand on.

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