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 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.