Considering Ordination

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Now that I am pursuing seminary work, people have begun to ask me if I am seeking ordination. To be perfectly frank, I do not know. I cannot say where the Lord will lead us. But in the course of our journey thus far, I have become more and more inclined to answer that question “Yes.”

If you had asked me so much as a year ago, I would have said absolutely not. Even six months ago I would have rejected the prospect of ordination quite strongly. But then again, just a year ago I was fairly opposed to the idea of seminary at all. It’s been a process getting here, and there is no doubt that the next few years will be an unfolding process as well.

I still have a few strong instincts (probably from the congregational-evangelical part of my background) that make me suspicious of the professionally religious. Certainly, the best and strongest influence on a person’s theology comes from their family and friends. People today generally feel more comfortable around people that are openly “like them” in education, vocation, and aspiration than a priest or religious scholar. There are good reasons to be content as just another face, albeit a zealous one, in the crowd of laity.

But the yearnings of my heart lead me elsewhere. I long to grow deeper in my faith, and lead others deeper as well. I long to serve and strengthen the Church, and participate in God’s saving work in the world. I am not satisfied thinking and talking of God only some of the time: I want to have him on my mind, in my heart, and on my lips all the time. I have come to hear in these yearnings a call toward ministry of some sort, and by extension, seminary, and perhaps ordination.

For me, the most appealing aspect of ordination is the formal, ecclesial recognition of the activity of the Holy Spirit in my life, and the calling of God into ministry. It is an opportunity to have what I hear from God tested and affirmed by the present and historical community of the Church. Such Godly confirmation would be invaluable to me.

Of course, I think that some of the things ordination would bring to my life would be mixed blessings. On some level, I think that I have resisted the idea of ordination because it seems too “ordinary,” too predictable. I have a strong internal opposition to everything that I perceive as “expected” or “typical.” I want to defy expectations and blaze new paths, choosing any “normal” option only with much kicking and screaming. Am I willing to lay down this internal rebellion?

Ordination would also mean recognizing the fact that I am a man “under orders.” I am subject first to God, then the Church, then the people I am serving. I may not be able to live freely the life that I would choose for myself. Am I willing to give up my sense of control, rights, and entitlements?

The Annunciation, in thoughtful, modern presentation.
The Annunciation, in thoughtful, modern presentation.

It has taken deep searching to uncover these pockets of inner resistance, but I am neither hesitant nor uncomfortable to answer them. By the grace of God, I am willing to sacrifice whatever he asks of me.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is not internal, but external: do I trust the machinery of my church sufficiently for ordination to be a meaningful experience? The current state of the Anglican Communion is messy, at best. In this country in particular the Episcopal Church is engaged in a battle that is tearing the fabric of the church at its deepest level, and deeply wounding its capacity to witness. Our cultural context already presents a significant challenge to Christian work, and now so much energy is being diverted into this fight. How does this reflect Christ?

Becoming ordained in this context seems to me a little like becoming a captain in the Spanish navy after the sinking of the Armada. It doesn’t make a lot of sense—unless, of course, you are Spanish, and you happen to love the sea.

There are not a lot of visible reasons to hope in the Church right now. But there is God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and promised to be with us, forming us and reforming us through his Holy Spirit.

Fortunately, I don’t have to work out whether or not this path will be the most lucrative, or the most rewarding; the most sensible, or the most beneficial to the world. I only have to discern whether or not it is where I am called. And I think it just might be.

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