A New Litany for Ordination

Ordination is a big deal. It only happens once in a lifetime. There is a standard litany for ordination. But, being a writer, as I prepared for my ordination last month, I couldn’t help rewriting the litany.

The standard Mennonite ordination comes from the Minister’s Manual, a handy little book published in 1998. The pocket-sized manual contains o the words of institution for all our critical rituals and life transitions.

I believe in the power of a standardized litany, the power of all pastors reciting the same words of commitment at ordination. I also believe in low church, that each of our ordination reflects each of our journeys, and after all as a low church, ordination doesn’t set us spiritually “above” the congregation, but alongside of it in a particular way. Each candidate for ordination can adjust the words and be faithful to the ritual itself.

When I read Form 1 and Form 2 in the Minister’s Manual, neither one fit me well. The words were dry and formal, without imagery, the gospel commitments had no edge, no risk. It asked me to reaffirm the vows of my baptism, but didn’t say what those vows were. The repeated use of “brothers/sisters” excluded my gender nonconforming friends. There was an optional insert for the candidate’s spouse, but no insert for a single pastor to acknowledge the relationships that hold them in ministering work. Even more, the insert called the spouse to deeper commitment of their gifts without acknowledging the stress pastoral work (and helping professions) can put on a relationship and the importance of sabbatical, sabbath, and self-care. All of these seemed like very solvable problems, with a few substitutions and rephrasings.

A final obstacle of the litany was making it inclusive across the age and verbal spectrum. How to invite into the celebration those who lack the vocabulary or intellect to process this heady recitation? A trip to the dollar store solved that problem, and during the Children’s Time party blowers were distributed (to children and to some adults). Those who preferred to express affirmation nonverbally used party blowers at the designated point in the litany.

In the ordination litany below, I’ve removed names. I’ve retained female pronouns throughout, because that was applicable to me, and because “[insert preferred pronoun]” makes for bulky reading and requires editing anyway. The ordination litanies in the Minister’s Manual are called Form 1 and Form 2; naturally, I titled mine “Ordination Free Form.”

Ordination Free Form

Conference Minister: Brothers and sisters, we are gathered today in the presence of God and of this assembly to ordain [Name of Candidate] to the pastoral ministry. Congregation, you presented [Name of Candidate] for ordination, she was examined by [Name of Regional Conference], and alongside you, [Name of Regional Conference] affirms her call be a public minister in the church and beyond it.

[Name of Candidate], the church is the family of God,
Those gathered here today are your brothers and sisters,
grandmothers and grandfathers, nieces and nephews,
gendered and gender-non-conforming family.
This family comes with all the laughter and frustration of any family gathering,
and with laughter and frustration they have called you
to ordination, to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher,
together will all who share in the radical, reconciling work of Jesus Christ.

It will be your task to proclaim by word and deed
the gospel of Jesus Christ,
to take risks in love, as Jesus did,
to challenge power and corruption, as Jesus did,
to proclaim the holy among the marginalized, as Jesus did,
to fashion your life in accordance with grace and peace, as Jesus did.
You are to love and serve the people among whom you work,
to live with them in mutual accountability,
to care for the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor.
You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners,
to declare God’s anger on those who hurt the orphan, the immigrant, and the disenfranchised,
to pronounce God’s blessing on all because God cannot help but bless,
to preside at baptism, at Communion, at marriage, and at other events.
In all that you do, you are commissioned love all God’s creation with your whole heart.

In that spirit, we ask those gathered to make the following affirmations.

[Name of Candidate], do you believe that you are truly called by God and God’s church to this ministry?

Candidate: I believe I am called.

Conference Minister: Do you today renew your baptismal vows (which I have here, and will read now) [insert with the vows from your baptism, if applicable]:

To love the Lord your God, the Trinity, the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit, with all your heart and soul and mind and strength?

And when you can’t love the Creator, Christ, and Spirit with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, to believe that your Creator calls you beloved, and loves you with all the force of our expanding universe?

And to join other pilgrims on God’s journey, stumbling into God’s abundant love, guided by God’s Word, providing each other mutual support and feedback as you travel?

Candidate: I renew each of these commitments.

Conference Minister: Do you accept the call of this faith community as a call from God?

Candidate: I would have said no to anyone else.

Conference Minister: Will you commit to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, laboring together with them and your fellow ministers to build up the family of God?

Candidate: I will.

Conference Minister: Will you do your upmost to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of God, even if you become as foolish as Ezekiel lying on his side for 390 days or as perplexing as Jeremiah burying his loincloth?

Candidate: I will strive to honor God as foolishly and perplexingly as I am able.

Conference Minister: Friends of [Name of Candidate], [Name of Candidate] has been called to serve as an ordained minister in Mennonite Church USA. As Candidate pursues the work of justice and reconciliation, do you acknowledge the burden this places on your friendship, and do you release her to respond to God even when it means she cannot always be present with you?

Friends: We do.

Conference Minister: A minister is called to work for God, but also to Sabbath for God. Do you commit to hold [Name of Candidate] accountable to resting, to remind her that she is not here to save the world, but to point toward the One who is already saving the world?

Friends: We do.

Conference Minister: And do you promise to hold the church accountable to God’s proclamation of justice, mercy, and radical welcome to all those on the margins, and to hold the church accountable both from within the institution and outside the institution?

Friends: We do.

Conference Minister: Congregation and children of the congregation, in commending [Name of Candidate] for this ministry, will you also uphold her in it and will you stand by her in her calling? (please answer with words of affirmation or noise makers)

Congregation: We will.

Conference Minister: Congregation and children of the congregation, will you honor Candidate’s calling as well as your own? (please answer with words of affirmation or noise makers)

Congregation: We will.

Conference Minister: Congregation and children of the congregation, do you release Candidate to follow the call to Shalom Community Fellowship in Ann Arbor, knowing that your churches remain in fellowship and prayer for each other? (please answer with words of affirmation or noise makers)

Congregation: We do.

Conference Minister: Congregation and children of the congregation, will you speak the truth in love, so the world will know you are Christians by your love? (please answer with words of affirmation or noise makers)

Congregation: We will.

Conference Minister: [Name of Candidate]. Friends of [Name of Candidate]. Congregation.

We have heard your promises.
On behalf of this gathered body at [Name of Congregation]
and on behalf of [Name of Regional Conference],
we recognize your ordination as a minister
of the gospel of Jesus Christ and commit this congregation
and the congregation at Shalom Community Church to your care.

The candidate kneels and the presider lays hands on her. Others join in the laying on of hands according to local custom. Conference Minister offers a prayer.

Conference Minister: Holy God, Creator and Mother of us all,
Look with favor upon your servant Candidate,
whom we dedicate to Christ’s ministry.

Pray the following or improvisationally:

May [Name] excel in every virtue: in love
that is sincere, in concern for the sick
and the poor, in unassuming authority,
in self-discipline, in holiness of life.
May [Name’s] conduct exemplify your commandments.
May [Name] remain strong and steadfast
in Christ, giving to the world the witness
of a pure conscience.

We ask this of you our Creator, Redeemer
and Sustainer now and through all that is to come.

Amen.

 

Ordination Prayer

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How to Read Half the Bible for Lent (and Still Take Days Off)

Two years ago for Lent, I decided to read a book of the Bible every day. It was more manageable than it sounds, mostly because you don’t realize how many short books there are until you start reading them. I more or less kept to my reading plan, which included Sundays off, as Catholics do in their Lent observations (the theory being that “each Sunday is like a mini-resurrection celebration”). I worked my way through two-thirds of the books of the Bible…. which left me with 23 very long unread books.

This year, I’m picking up where I left off. Coincidentally, these unread books fit well with the Year B lectionary theme, which is all about covenanting. It’s a good time to dwell in the Abrahamic promise; the covenants the Israelites developed in the wilderness; the failed covenant of kingship; and the somewhat obtuse covenant expounded in Hebrews.

I’m posting my reading plan here partly for accountability, partly as an invitation to join the fun. If you’re still looking for a Lent discipline, the more the merrier! There are no assigned Sunday readings, for a day of rest or catch up. I find Sundays are a practical day to skip, because as a pastor my Sundays are typically hectic and I don’t get the same reading time. If you find a different day is tough to juggle, adjust the schedule accordingly—but I recommend keeping a consistent day of rest throughout.

If you want to know why I arranged things the way I did, here’s a brief summary. If you’d rather just dive in, mark your Bible for Genesis 1… and I’ll see you there tomorrow. I’ll also try to Tweet a favorite/intriguing verse from each day’s reading.

The reading begins in Genesis because, as Lewis Carrol says, it is always a good idea to “begin at the beginning.” From there, it dives into the rest of the Pentateuch, minus Deuteronomy, which for some strange reason I lumped in with the shorter books on my last go around. 1 Samuel through 2 Kings follow in rapid succession, with a breather of poetry and prayer before heading through the Chronicles’ recap of the kingly history. The fall of Judah (again) is followed by Jeremiah’s fraught account of the same. Finally, after Nehemiah’s reconstruction, we get the New Testament holdouts, ending in Mark. Mark was included in the first go-around, but I wanted to sneak at least one Gospel into this set. Mark was the winner because (1) it’s the primary Gospel of year B and (2) it’s the shortest Gospel.

Happy Lent, friends!

Wed., Feb. 14: Genesis 1-15
Thurs., Feb. 15: Genesis 16-28
Fri., Feb. 16: Genesis 29-41
Sat., Feb. 17: Genesis 42-50

Mon., Feb. 19: Exodus 1-20
Tues., Feb. 20: Exodus 21-40
Wed., Feb. 21: Leviticus 1-16
Thurs., Feb. 22: Leviticus 17-27
Fri., Feb. 23: Numbers 1-17
Sat., Feb. 24: Numbers 18-36

Mon., Feb. 26: Joshua 1-12
Tues., Feb. 27: Joshua 13-24
Wed., Feb. 28: Judges
Thurs., Mar. 1: 1 Samuel 1-16
Fri., Mar. 2: 1 Samuel 16-31
Sat., Mar. 3: 2 Samuel 1-12

Mon., Mar. 5: 2 Samuel 13-24
Tues., Mar. 6: 1 Kings 1-22
Wed., Mar. 7: 2 Kings 1-12
Thurs., Mar. 8: 2 Kings 13-25
Fri., Mar. 9: Job 1-20
Sat., Mar. 10: Job 21-42

Mon., Mar. 12: Psalms 1-50
Tues., Mar. 13: Psalms 51-100
Wed., Mar. 14: Psalms 101-150
Thurs., Mar. 15: Proverbs
Fri., Mar. 16: Ecclesiastes
Sat., Mar. 17: Isaiah 1-39

Mon., Mar. 19: Isaiah 40-55
Tues., Mar. 20: Isaiah 56-66
Wed., Mar. 21: I Chronicles
Thurs., Mar. 22: 2 Chronicles
Fri., Mar. 23: Jeremiah 1-25
Sat., Mar. 24: Jeremiah 26-52

Mon., Mar. 26: Nehemiah
Tues., Mar. 27: 1 Corinthians
Wed., Mar. 28: 2 Corinthians
Thurs., Mar. 29: Hebrews
Fri., Mar. 30: Revelation
Sat., Mar. 31: Mark

What Does MC USA Want in an Executive Director?

When a congregation goes through a pastoral transition, it has a lot of conversations. What do we want in a pastor? A good preacher? An activist? Someone who is good at visitation? Someone skilled in conflict resolution?

As Mennonite Church USA prepares to welcome a new executive director next spring, we ought to ask the same question: What do we want in an executive director?

We tend to think an executive director should be a pastor or a spiritual leader. But the executive director is not, as I’ve heard some people jokingly describe it, “The Mennonite Pope.” The executive director does not give spiritual mandates, define doctrine or appoint conference ministers. Instead, the job description includes supervising MC USA staff, serving as CEO and primary spokesperson, fundraising and monitoring spending. While many pastors do some of this in their positions, very few pastors go into ministry because they have fundraising, CEO or management skills.

The executive director is a management and business position. While it would be wonderful to find a candidate who is skilled at both management and ministry, the search committee’s primary charge is to find a skilled administrator. In the job description, “theological studies” and “ministerial credentials” are desirable qualities, not essential qualities.

We need church leaders with strong theological backgrounds. We also need church leaders with business skills; who understand strategy and marketing and can articulate strengths in ways that make people excited to be part of this group of peculiar Christians. Those may not overlap with pastoral skills like explaining Scripture through a sermon; greeting everyone on Sunday morning or visiting homes and hospitals.

The wide, clamoring, diverse body of MC USA must also change expectations of the executive director. Outgoing executive director Ervin Stutzman was often called in to keep this or that constituency in the church; to appease this or that group; to shepherd by speaking at conferences and gatherings. He was often expected to be a spiritual leader, to guide through challenging conversations about sexuality and the Confession of Faith. While the executive director has some role in shaping those conversations in a non-anxious way, the executive director is not hired to be the arbiter of orthodoxy.

As a nonhierarchical denomination, MC USA must resist the temptation to push a business leader into spiritual leadership. For that, look to the Constituency Leaders’ Council — the representative body of conference ministers, moderators and constituency group leaders who meet to “worship and pray together, encourage faithfulness, share ideas and resources, process concerns and discern direction on issues of faith and life,” according to MC USA resource documents.

The executive director faces a large challenge to navigate and unify the strong, diverse views of MC USA–and to restore trust during and after a major conflict. The new executive director is expected to be faithful to the Anabaptist vision and devout in his or her own spiritual walk. But that does not equate to a pastoral temperament or years behind the pulpit. The next executive director may very well come from the administrative staff of a denominational agency, be an educator in an Anabaptist institution, or an energetic Anabaptist entrepreneur.

The executive director can only be as good as the clarity of MC USA’s vision. Let us use these months of searching to discuss with each other our brightest vision of this beautiful, broken body of Christ.

 

***

This post first appeared in the Mennonite World Review.

Is it Too Late to Save Mennonite Voluntary Service?

In 2009 when I graduated from college, I chose to go into Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS). I made the choice independently, only to discover that many of my friends were also choosing a year of service in cities across the country. The program was expanding rapidly. It added two units in 2009-2010, and for some time that spring, had a waitlist of young graduates eager to serve.

In 2015-2016, MVS closed half its units due to declining participation. In spite of downsizing, the program is struggling. This year, after hosting just two participants in a unit designed for eight, one congregation in a popular city is debating a “sabbatical year” in 2018-2019. Continue reading

An Anabaptist Response to Gun Violence

There is a gap in Mennonite response to mass shootings. After a  shooting, when secular headlines buzz with gory details and harrowing survivals, Mennonite news outlets often continue posting business-as-usual news. Over the past few years, as shootings occur, I’ve begun Googling the location + “Anabaptist” or “Mennonite.” When I did it three days after the Sutherland Springs shooting, the first page of search results all read “Missing: Anabaptist.”

Occasionally, a Mennonite publication will carry a call to prayer or brief opinion that restates a general commitment to pacifism, but most often, we are left with the distinct, lonely feeling that pacifism means existing above the fray, and existing above the fray means pretending the violence didn’t happen.

Google Anabaptist mass shooting

A typical Google search after a mass shooting. (The second hit is a newspaper summarizing local headlines, which included coverage of the shooting on the same page where Anabaptists were given a nod during Reformation Day celebrations.)

Congregations in the same state or region may respond by attending a vigil, but often Anabaptist response is based on proximity and the coverage is a summary of the reactive response. It is not a proactive churchwide movement but a rippling in one corner of the fabric.

Days after the shooting in Las Vegas, Chicagoland Mennonite pastors met for our monthly pastors’ meeting. For months, we’d planned to have a speaker from Mennonite Central Committee facilitate a conversation about gun violence. Most of the pastors admitted we’d never talked with our congregations about gun violence. We didn’t know how. Continue reading

Are Self-Driving Cars Even Ethical?

It’s time to talk about self-driving cars. Many technological innovations–Amazon Echo, an iPhone without headphone port, Sarahah–catch us by surprise. But self-driving cars have been under development since the 1980s, and shot into public view in 2009, when Google announced its hope to have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road by 2020.

Conversations about automated vehicles are so focused on the technology itself that they do not ask how that technology will affect our lives. Several concerns should be part of congregational conversation:

Continue reading

Can You Love the Enemy Who is Trying to Kill You?

In the wake of Charlottesville, the Internet can be divided into two (three) people: the people crying that we should all “love our enemy;” the people shouting “They are literally trying to kill me;” (and the neo-Nazi defenders, who promote killing the aforementioned people; don’t even go down that rabbit hole).

The crux of the argument between the first two groups: Can You Love the Enemy who is Trying to Kill You?

Can You Love the Enemy Who is Trying to Kill You?

Spoiler Alert: if you’re Christian, you have to find a way from here to there. Jesus himself says the problematic phrase “Love your enemies.” But there are some twists and turns before we get there.

The problem with the enemy-loving question, especially on the Internet, is that most people argue from a Kantian perspective. To be perfectly objective, Immanuel Kant is a German philosopher who tried to universalize his own privilege as a mechanism for ethical discernment. Those calling for enemy-loving are often trying to universalize a moral claim in order to apply it to someone else. More pointedly, they tend to be privileged people suggesting that because I am white and I have been your enemy, you must love me. People who have done wrong have a vested interest in convincing the wronged to love their enemies. This is why Kant is insufficient.

Taking Kant out of the equation, we have two other starting points.

Immanuel Kant Birthday

John Stuart Mill at Kant’s Birthday (from Existential Comics).

Continue reading