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The day I was ordained by the Holland Classis to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament was one of the most incredible days of my life. People from a variety of traditions came to bear witness to the movements of Jesus in my life and the life of the church. People of the Christian faith, people of other faiths, and people of no faith attended my ordination service, knowing something bigger was going on than the pomp and circumstance of a seminary graduate.
I was ordained in a sea of red as I asked every minister, elder, and every person attending to wear red. Red: the color of Pentecost, the fiery color of the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit, who can tame Her? The holy sea of red reminded me of the way the Holy Spirit tickled my heart as a little girl who would lead her congregation of stuffed animals in word and sacrament. And so when I read my ordination vows, I bawled like a little girl. Part of me was wondering what I had just done and part of me was recognizing that I was part of something much bigger than myself. To this day I feel the weight of the hands touching my head and back as the church ordained me to teach the good news of the grace of Jesus. January 29th will forever be a sort of anniversary between the church and me.
Over the past two weeks I had the privilege of being a part of the ordaining of others. The New York Classis has ordained two incredible women, the Reverend Doctor Tricia Sheffield and the Reverend Liz Testa. I watched as they read the same vows I read. I laid my hands on them the same way ministers and elders did to me. I listened to preachers remind the newly ordained and all of us gathered what the role of minister is about. Tricia stood before us barefoot the entire ordination service. She understood the holiness of that hour. Liz stood before us beaming as the pipes of the Gospel choir were off the hook. Joy filled these churches. No, the church is not dead; the church is being born again and again.
When I listened to Tricia and Liz read their ordination vows I began to cry like I cried the first time I read them out loud to the good people in Holland, Michigan. Vows matter. In the same way I pledged to journey this life with my incredible husband, I have pledged to serve the church and walk in the spirit of Christ. Perhaps the reason I cry is because more often than not my spirit does not look like Christ. In the part of our vows about unity, I am often tempted by my individualistic impulse and say it might just be better if the church split in our differences (nope, that’s not unity). In the part about purity, I am freaked out because I get scared we will turn God’s grace into a contest for personal piety. And the part about pledging my life to peace I realize that anyone who has been my friend more than one week will tell you that I’m real good about stirring up provocative arguments and I will always want get the last word (you peacemakers, how do you do it?). So when I listen to my fellow ministers read the same ordination vows that I have pledged to follow I realize that my tears come not from my ability to keep the vows but because God’s grace is so incredible.
No minister can say that our walk is the Spirit of Christ all the time. (And if you do, let me give you my therapist’s number.) So I cry at ordinations because the God of grace has come into my life and has called me by name into ordained ministry along with Liz, Tricia, Daniel, Thomas, Steve, Gordon, Jill, Shari, and all of you have said these same vows. Vows matter because they remind us of God’s covenantal vow to us. Vows matter because at baptism God claims us as God’s own. Vows matter because every time my lips touch the bitterness of wine and the sweetness of bread, I am reminded of God’s own body, broken and blessed for the sake of God’s love of all creation. Vows matter because in a world of hyper individualism, we need to know that God is sovereign above our ravenous individual desires. Vows matter.
So for all of you who have read these vows, read them again. And for all of you who know a minister, read them and pray because these vows are lofty and it’s only the grace of God that allows us to say them with any sort of integrity.
I, (Minister’s Name), in becoming a minister of the Word of God in the Reformed Church in America, within the Classis of Holland, sincerely and gladly declare before God and with you that I believe the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as expressed in the Standards of the Reformed Church in America. I accept the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and life. I accept the Standards as historic and faithful witnesses to the Word of God.
I promise to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking the things that make for unity, purity, and peace. I will submit myself to the counsel and admonition of the classis, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith. I will conduct the work of the church in an orderly way and according to the Liturgy and the Book of Church Order.
Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life to preach and teach the good news of salvation in Christ, to build up and equip the church for mission in the world, to free the enslaved, to relieve the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted, and to walk humbly with God. I ask God, and you His servants, to help me so to live until that glorious day when, with joy and gratitude, we stand before our great God and King.