I’ve been thinking about my own ordination lately, though from the excitement that day I don’t remember all that much about it. Specific episodes, such as the laying on of hands, but not a complete narrative of the day. (The same is true of my wedding.)
I do remember other people’s, and usually it’s because they were long, self-indulgent, or both. What might have made them better? (This, of course, applies to the free churches, where ordinations are held in the local church and usually one at a time.)
A better ordination is not primarily about taste, though I think there’s something to be said about a more conservative approach, which at least can be appreciated ironically. Being too novel or eccentric in such a ceremony is like putting salt in soup: you can add more (or not), but not take it out once added.
My rubric: the ordination is about the order of the ministry, not the particular ordinand. You, the ordinand, are entering a stream that has carried the pastoral ministry of the church for centuries. That should give you a chill. You will meet challenges, joys, temptations, horrors and accomplishments. Don’t try to go it alone; as a sign of this, don’t make the ordination about you.
A few practical thoughts. Seek first a good and experienced marshal (master of ceremonies) to keep the proceedings in order. Rely on more experienced ministers for your ordination; you will need them later as colleagues. That goes double for local ministers. Again, the ordination should not be long, because if it’s too long that’s all that people will talk about; I think 75 minutes is about right. If you are called to your first church, wait to be ordained there and not at your home or internship church; this is an old tradition too often lost these days (I’m talking to the Unitarian Universalists now) but it’s one of the few ways that small churches (who often call first-timers) celebrate their place in the communion of churches.
Twenty years ago, on the nineteeth of September, the Canon Universalist Church ordained me to the Ministry of the Gospel.
I’m feeling a little nostalgic about it. Here is the order of service; I made it into a web page which I think was still something of a novelty back then.
The file has remained unchanged (and readable) all these years, though cleaned up for publication here.
The “continuing Congregationalists” are probably the closest relatives to the Universalists (probably) apart from the Unitarians, so it’s worth to look at their resources.
The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches has a page of worship resources, especially ordinations and installations. There’s a 1978 book, The Congregational Worshipbook, that’s now out of print but can be downloaded. I’ve held it and read from it before, and do not recommend it. An absolute brick, and a bit too particular to its author. Do you really need services with the particular anthems filled in? The very specific dedication services (a Bible? a window? a pulpit?) is the flip side to this particularity and maybe the most useful part of the book.
I welcome readers from my Boy in the Bands blog and earlier web endeavors, and newcomers. This new work will, I intend, hew closer to the faith and practice of Universalist Christians, which remains so close to my heart.
Ten years ago today, I was ordained to the ministry of the Gospel by Canon Universalist Church, Canon, Georgia. There and then, after the act of the congregation, I responded thus:
Friends: With a deep sense of responsibility, trusting not in my own strength, but in the grace and power of God, I take up the ministry to which you ordain me. I do pledge myself, so far as in me lies, to maintain the freedom of this pulpit; to speak the truth in love, both publicly and privately, without fear of persons; diligently to fulfill the several offices of worship, instruction and administration, according to the customs of this congregation and fellowship; and in all things so to live as to promote piety and righteousness, peace and love among this people and with all humanity.
Such a pledge doesn’t scan to a blog, but it shall be in my mind as I write and manage my words.
Or ordained for the second time, but as so much with early Universalism, the first was irregular enough to be legally suspect.
John Murray was the minister of the Independent Christian Church, Gloucester, Massachusetts; the record of the ordination follows after the jump, from Universalism in Gloucester, Mass. (1892, 191 ff.) A polity note: see the parallels between the institution of the parish and the proprietors and regular congregation. Oh, and the Shorter Catechism referenced is the Westminster Shorter Catechism!
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