What Just Happened? Reflections on Ordination
July 1, 2012
I’d like to tell you about a pretty important day in my life. A day in which, amidst the best wishes of family and friends, surrounded by pageantry in a large auditorium, I launched into a new career. I had survived a long educational process, paper writing, examination, interviews. On that day, I made some pretty solemn promises. I had dreams. I had visions of the good that I could do in the world. The date was November 2, 1979 when I was sworn in as an Attorney and Counselor at Law before the Supreme Court of Ohio.
Recently, I had another pretty important day in my life. I think about the similarities and differences between that event that took place more than thirty-two years ago, and the event that took place just eight days ago when we gathered for the Annual Conference in Roanoke, Virginia and I was ordained. Once again, there were family and friends surrounding me. There was pageantry and a large auditorium. The day came only after the completion of a long educational process, paper writing, examinations and interviews (a process that was every bit as thorough, if not more so, than the process of becoming a lawyer). Once again, I was asked to make some promises about how I would be faithful to my calling to ministry. And I had dreams and visions for ministry. So what was different?
In reality, the question “what was different” is only the tip of the iceberg for the much larger question “what is ordination, anyway.” For me, it begs the question, “What just happened.” Carol told me that the look on my face in some of the pictures after ordination betrayed that question—I had that “deer in the headlights look” that can come over you when you have the feeling that you have just encountered something or someone so much greater than you and you are trying to take it all in.
And there was a lot to take in.
· There was the shock on Friday evening of sitting at dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse and hearing familiar voices from 550 miles away asking, “May we join you?” Bob and Janet Machovec, dear friends of ours since 1980 took me completely by surprise by giving up a week of vacation time to attend.
· There was the joy of having so many of my friends from Cunningham join us on Saturday to attend the Ordination Service. I can’t begin to express how important your love, your support and your prayers have meant to me during this journey.
· There was the joy of having my family present. My extended family watched via the internet and beyond. One of my siblings sent me a message following the service that said he believed my mom and dad were doing “high fives” in heaven afterward. To have our children and their families present was both a joy and an honor. And what can I say about all that Carol has meant to me during this journey together? She has walked with me, hand in hand, for more than thirty-six years. She has been my partner, my support, my editor, my wife, my best friend.
Yet, I had friends and family celebrating with me when I became a lawyer. This occasion was so much different. What just happened?
When you boil it down to the moment, it was simple enough. Carol and I walked on to the stage. I knelt down, with my Bible opened. I had “cheat sheet” for Bishop Kammerer on top of my Bible, placed there to help her remember my name (I was, after all, part of the largest Ordination Class that the Virginia Conference ever has taken in). I closed my eyes and soon felt the hands of Bishop Kammerer gently moving my hands on the top of my Bible so she could read the cheat sheet! And then I felt the weight of the hands of Bishop Kammerer, Bishop Innis of Liberia, Brenda Biler, our District Superintendent, the Rev. Justin White, who served as my pastor while I attended Seminary, Carol, and four other representatives of the Conference. Their hands were placed gently on my head and shoulders. Bishop Kammerer spoke these words: “Almighty God, pour upon Thomas E. Frost the Holy Spirit, for the office and work of an elder in Christ’s holy church.” Bishop Kammerer then gave me this instruction: “Thomas E. Frost, take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacaments in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And it was done. A red stole was placed around my neck, a certificate of ordination was placed in my hand, and that was it. Or was it?
To the casual observer, maybe. But not to those of us looking through the eyes of faith. For through those eyes, we understand this simple ceremony to mean so much more.
Throughout our Judeo-Christian heritage, the laying of hands has represented a couple of different things. It has marked the passing of authority. In our Old Testament Lesson, Moses laid his hands on Joshua. The scripture tells us that the spirit was in him (Numbers 27:18). The Lord instructed Moses to give to Joshua some, but not all, of the authority that Moses possessed. Joshua was not expected to become a second Moses; he was, however, expected to take up the tasks that God had set before him. In a similar fashion, Bishop Kamerer told me to “take authority”—not open-ended, all consuming authority, but authority to do certain two specific things. To preach the Word of God and to administer the Holy Sacraments. Within those two tasks, I think I have my hands full!
But the laying on of hands also signifies for us the empowering of the Holy Spirit. God does not send us out unprepared. When Jesus commissioned his followers to preach, make disciples, baptize and teach, Jesus promised to be with them—even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). That is the promise of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us and empower us. So the Bishop’s prayer for the empowering work of the Holy Spirit was not mere words; her prayer joined the prayers through the centuries that God would send people to teach and preach.
Some would say that Ordination is mere tradition. Certainly tradition is present. One of the certificates that I was given contained a sort of “family tree” of Methodist ordinations dating all the way back to John Wesley, who ordained Thomas Coke, who ordained Francis Asbury, and continuing through the generations until it reaches the final line that Charlene Kammerer ordained Thomas Frost.
But ordination is more than tradition. And it is more than the end of a journey. It is a directive—marching orders to get busy. We have a job to do.
Ultimately, ordination is not about the people who are ordained; ordination is about God. Ordination is about the One who created us, who loves us, and who calls us back home. Ordination is about the One who forgives us, and who perfects us in love. Ordination is about the One who invites us to be part of the divine Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom that seems a long way off but, in some ways, already is breaking out around us.
One part of the Ordination Service that will always stick out in my memory was that those being ordained formed an “Ordinands Choir”. The anthem that we sang were based on the words of Psalm 84:9 that we read earlier. The words to the anthem went something like this:
I’d rather be a servant in your heavenly house
Than to be a king living anywhere else…
I’d rather spend one day in your heavenly house
Than to spend a thousand thousand days living anywhere else.
Now I offer myself to you.
Those words express exactly the way I feel about God’s house. I was elated that night. Even Ethan could sense that something special was going on. As David, Nicole, Ethan and Grace were leaving the two-hour service, Ethan looked up at David and said, “Church was fun, Daddy.” [Actually, we were proud of this moment because no one had told him that he would be attending a church service in the Roanoke Civic Center.] Yes, Ethan, church was fun. It left me so high up on cloud nine that not even a bout with food poisoning a few days later could bring me back to earth.
If ordination was only “fun,” then the fun will be short lived. If it was only a celebration or a checkpoint in the journeys of the lives of 32 people, then its significance will fade away quickly. But if Ordination was truly a call to action, a call to live and to preach the news of the Kingdom of God and to administer the Holy Sacraments, then the joy and the call of Ordination will continue—for we have a lot of work to do. And it is work that does not only involve the thirty-two ordinands. It is a call for all of us.
We all are part of the body of Christ that we call the church. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, the different parts of the body have different functions, but we all are needed for the body to function in the way God intended.
Ordination was not about me. Ordination was about God and the work that God calls all of us to do. The same God who nudged me to seminary has a calling for you, as well. Your calling may be to run a classroom, to run a library, to run a county or to run an office. Your calling may be to clean a hospital, to clean a house, or to clean a church sanctuary. Your calling may be to prepare health kits for people in need thousands of miles away, or to care for loved ones right in your own home. Your calling may be to raise a family or to raise a vegetable garden. Your call may not be the same as my call, but it is a call to do God’s work, nonetheless. We are invited, in “whatever [we] do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, NIV).
As we were being ordained, a verse of scripture was displayed on the screen in the Civic Center. Each person being ordained had been invited to select a verse that was significant to them in their lives and ministry. The verse that I selected was Matthew 6:33—“Strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” My Bible was opened to that verse as I knelt before the Bishop.
The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom I am seeking. This is the Kingdom that I am working for.
What about you? In what ways has God been nudging you to work for the Kingdom? Perhaps your nudge is one that is so gentle and so subtle that it is difficult to discern. Perhaps your nudge is more direct, insisting on your immediate attention. Either way, God’s nudge is one that must be listened to. It is important to test out those nudges, to make sure that they come from God and not from ourselves. But when they have been affirmed, I promise you that there is no greater joy than in responding with those words, “Here I am, Lord.”
If you are willing to respond to God’s nudge this morning, I invite you join me in saying “Lord, I give myself to You.”
May it be so! Amen!
Copyright © 2012 Thomas E. Frost. All rights reserved.