One of the few things I believe Facebook gets right is their reminder of “memories” to its users. By memories, I mean photos which show up on an individual time line pointing them back to an event which took place on that same date a year, or even several, years ago. A few weeks back I received the notification of one of these memories; my ordination.
Being in Divinity school, there‘s a lot of talk between students concerning ordination. Wake Forest School of Divinity is a very ecumenical institution where Unitarian Universalist, Methodist, Lutherans, Catholics, Disciples of Christ, and several different flavors of Baptist walk the halls together. All these traditions support different requirements for ordination; some demanding so much education before being considered while others require psychological evaluations.
Speaking for Baptist, the local church determines those prerequisites.
The last few weeks I’ve been spurred to think about my ordination and the process I experienced at my first and former church. The process started in the summer of 2015 and by September a date was agreed up. I was given a series of question to answers before having to sit in front of a committee made up of men and women of the congregation. I admit I was nervous, but once inside the room I distinguished that this was not an inquisition of my beliefs. Instead sitting before those people who I had grown to love and them me, I felt nothing but a spirit of affirmation being given to me. After an hour they voted to ordain me. They planned a service for me in November, another gift, and I invited a few people to speak who had been with me on my journey. I kneeled in the front of the church before all present and people came forward and laid hands upon me…praying, blessing, and pouring what they had of the divine into my being.
This memory rushed back to me as I sat with two other young pastors from different denominations who are going through a rigorous ordination process. During our conversation, one of them posed the question, “Don’t you think you should have to have a certain level of education before that happens?”
This got me to thinking.
While I do agree that theological education is needed, higher education is transactional by nature. I submit a paper and my professor is required to give me a grade. I do this so that they might do that. It’s a give and take sort of relationship that carries a certain form of expectation from both parties.
The way I view my ordination is different than how I view my theological education. My ordination was given; it was a gift. I did nothing to earn it. The church which ordained me verified the hope they saw in me. Arguably, there was nothing I could give them in return of equal value except my service driven by my love and appreciation for them.
Will D. Campbell was ordained in the same Baptist tradition as I. Years later he took his ordination certificate signed by his pastor, his father, and another family member and glued it on top of his divinity degree from Yale University. For Brother Will, the recognition by those individuals at East Fork Baptist Church in Mississippi meant more to him than his Ivey League degree.
I enjoyed my time at Campbell University and am doing the same at Wake Divinity, but to the people of Lillington Baptist Church in Harnett County NC…I am forever grateful.
And maybe, after it’s all said and done, perhaps I’ll break out the Elmer’s as well to remind myself that it’s not my accomplishments which got me to where I am today. It’s the people who loved me and charged me to “keep telling the Jesus story.”