Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Making Clergy

This month our Board of Ordained Ministry (Rick Owen, chair) moves into high gear in evaluating persons for ministry in our church. I am thrilled with the various improvements that our BOOM has made in the process of prayerfully evaluating, selecting, and authorizing new clergy. Our whole process of calling people to the ordained ministry has been overhauled with careful attention to the task of producing the leaders that our church needs to grow and to give United Methodism a bright future.

She walked off a good job that she dearly loved and, in her early forties, went back to school in an academic field in which she had no previous experience. When she told her husband that she was heading to seminary, he called her crazy and threatened, “This wasn’t part of my contract.” Her teenagers said they would never forgive her for announcing, “I think God wants me to be a United Methodist minister.”

She borrowed fifty thousand dollars to help pay for the education that the church requires, leapt a dozen hurdles including psychological testing and a financial investigation, and endured grueling interviews and papers on United Methodist doctrine, history, and polity for the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Not content with her M.Div. degree and her past preparation, the Discipline requires two more years of probation while the Board evaluated her fitness for ministry.

And all of that has brought her tonight, to where she kneels before me in the Service of Ordination. I hold my crosier in one hand and give her a Bible with the other, ominously telling her, “take authority to preach the word.” I ask her to promise loyalty to the United Methodist Church, to defend our doctrine and, more specifically, submissively to go wherever a bishop like me sends a pastor like her. And then I lay hands on her head praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable her to do what she has so brashly promised.

Of all Episcopal duties, the making of new clergy is the most sacred -- and the most daunting. Ordination is counter to just about everything that Americans believe. A vow to subordinate personal ambition, marriage, family, a comfortable income, and even the choice of where to sleep at night to the mission of the Bride of Christ is mind boggling recklessness. The odds are something like one in four that she will make it no more than ten years as a pastor before she burns out, blacks out, or backs out.

And I stand before her, lay hands upon her head, order her to tell people the truth that most of them are assiduously avoiding, pray for the Holy Spirit to zap her, and proclaim that her ministry is God’s idea before it was hers. I am unworthy to be here, as I have been unworthy to nearly everywhere Jesus has put me.

Pray, church, that the Lord will continue to send us laborers for a bountiful harvest!

Will Willimon


Hart said...

An inspiring story. And yet I wonder. Is it really more clergy that we need? Is that the real calling that needs to be heard in our day? Is professional ministry the call that needs emphasis? Or is it the priesthood of all believers?
It still seems to be the case, that folks believe a call to ministry is a call to seminary and ordination. I wonder when we'll spend time celebrating the mysterious call of folks to their ministry as teachers, scientists, honest business leaders, parenthood, you name it. That's the call that isn't celebrated in the church's life. And we are the poorer for it.

Pastor Mandy said...

Yes, it's holy work and I'm a recent beneficiary in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, where we have a 3-year "probation" that I am currently...uh...serving. That sounds weird. I am alarmed that with all the work, hurdles and testing we do, we have so many cases of clergy misconduct that I'm thinking the tests and investigation and interviewing should have turned up. Something about missing the camels and straining out the gnats....

Anyway, to take this yoke upon one's shoulders is just as wide-eyed unbelievable as it is to be the one who stands by for the Church and puts it there. I pray every day for faithfulness and zeal and enough insanity to live out my promises and the demands of this gospel we preach. Praise God for your ominous tones and for people still willing to walk off perfectly fine jobs because God has other ideas for their lives.