Defining Ordination is harder than you think!

Last week I posted the first of 3 questions I have been asked to ponder before meeting some Examining Chaplains; they will be given the task of discerning whether I should be sent for a BAP.

In last week’s post (Rescued from the darkness) I thought over my spiritual journey so far and considered how my sense of a call to ordained ministry fitted in it.  Next week I’ll be posting my thoughts for the final question on the future challenges for the Anglican Church in the future, and my role in it.  They will be collected together as the Ministry Enquiry Form that will be given to the Examining Chaplains to help them in their task.

This week’s post is the second of the questions set by my DDO:

“Please give your understanding of ordained ministry in the Church of England.  Anglicans of different traditions may have different emphases and language to describe ordained ministry, Examining Chaplains will be interested to discover what you think and why.”

Here are my thoughts.

Explaining my understanding of ordained ministry seems to be one of the harder tasks of exploring ordination so far.  It feels that it is as much a question of what the ordained clergy do as who and what they are.

What makes ordained ministry distinctive in the church?  In some respects the distinctiveness is in the higher expectations that congregations (if they are made up of people like me!) place on those ordained, compared with those who are not.  There is much overlap and there needs to be, Deacons, Priests and Bishops are not the only ones being called to be a physical representation of Christ in the world, we are all called to live as Jesus taught us.  Yet today, as in both the Old and New Testament times, individuals are sometimes set apart from others to perform certain duties.

There is the trio of hatch, match and dispatch, of baptisms, weddings and funerals in which ordained priests play the pivotal part linking the relevant people to God.  There is the privilege both deacons and priests have of respectively assisting with or presiding over communion.  It is one, which like the former trio, needs to be in the hands of someone known by all to treat them with the respect and sensitivity that their training and God has given them.

Ordained people are called to live out what they, God and Jesus preach. They may be in positions of leaderships but theirs is at heart a servant ministry:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-9

For Deacons their very purpose is to equip people so that they may make Christ known to others.  How they and other ordained people act has to be genuine; things done for show rarely last or remain hidden forever.  People need to see that, as Bishop Pritchard has said, the priest takes their call to live as an individual human being first: how they live their lives, all of it, seen or unseen: the quality of their spiritual life, and how they repent and seek forgiveness for example.

In being a representative of Christ, an incarnation ministry in effect, ordained people may be viewed as rocks of people’s lives.  It creates a tension in the degree of openness they offer to people.  On one hand people need to see that no one except Jesus is without flaw, yet being open about every little struggle could leave people feeling like their house is built on the sand.

Whilst we all have our individual journeys to travel we also need to travel together.  Or to put it another way, although the church is made up of individuals, each individual is part of a family and of the body of Christ.  The ordained, whether deacon, priest or bishop, are there as living embodiments of Christ, as leaders or spiritual parents who nurture the lives of those in their care.  And like a leader and parent, the ordained need to help the church family, the wider community and society beyond to minister and work well with each other.

Ordained people carry a sense of authority, of recommendation, virtue and value that has been associated with them because of the training they have had.  They are called to preach and pastor, two roles which can be in tension with each other, especially when serving God means delivering a message that could be tough to hear.

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-4

For me, one of the biggest challenges of an ordained person is serving God when doing so means doing something that is not to the liking of a a congregation or society at large.  The characteristics of leadership that comes with being a Priest are particularly important at such moments.

Their primary aim is to be that shepherd Jesus spoke of, a person who guides their flock to their place of safety and ultimate destination, God’s kingdom.  Being true to this means loving and sustaining communities as Christ does, and that requires being prepared to sensitively tell the truth, to take them to new places, however tough it may be to hear or do.

Those ordained are given a position in society from which they can speak to the masses, whether Christian or not.  As the media, and supposedly society, is increasingly turning away from God, God is stirring in me a passion to ensure His voice is heard.  Just as we all need to try and see things from other peoples’ points of views so the world needs to see and hear things from God’s points of view.

Being in such a position brings a sense of comfort of being in a recognised outlet for explicitly sharing the faith, an activity that is increasingly difficult for people in secular environments.  However, it comes with the challenge and responsibility to use it to do just that, to engage in the issues of public life with integrity and courage.

Whilst defining the ‘doing’ part of ordained ministry is akin to selecting items from a job description, defining who or what an ordained individual is a more personal thing.  I asked various people how they would define it and most, like me, found it difficult to pin it down to one thing.  Some spoke in such general terms that I was none the wiser after they had spoken!

Of those people that did manage a definition they spoke of the servant nature of ordination: a servant of God called to serve the church.  My favourite of the definitions I was given spoke of being ordained as being the co-host of a party; it paints a wonderful picture of someone being there to help others to celebrate and enjoy all that is God and of God.

“While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:2-3

Like some, I see an ordained person as someone set apart by God for God, for a specific purpose.  This is where, I feel, it becomes essential that a whole host of people are able to recognise that purpose.  It is why I am so grateful that the Church of England’s process of exploring ordination reflects the book of Acts, where a multitude of people are formally and informally involved in the discernment process.

Your thoughts, comments and feedback are most welcomed.

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