Tag Archives: ordination

An Easter Moment

I’m not sure why I have waited so long to tell this story, but on this Easter morning as my overwhelming joy is being converted to tears rolling down my cheek, I thought I’d share.  This is a brief story about my ordination last spring.  But I think you’ll see that it is really a story of Easter.

On that evening at Annual Conference I was ordained by Bishop Palmer.  I was given a Bible and a certificate and the authority to preach, teach and administer the sacraments.  On bended knee I accepted the responsibility, privilege, and humbling honor to be called an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Palmer, along with Rev. Keith Zimmerman laid their hands on me and called upon the Holy Spirit.

I do not remember much that Bishop Palmer said to me in those moments.  I remember tears flowing down my face, and I remember the feel of his hands on me.  I felt the loving presence of my family – whom I knew to be standing behind me, in body and spirit, amongst the congregation of those gathered.  I knew that members of my church were there as well – beloved saints who had made the drive to be with me on that holy night.  But there were so many more.

As I bowed my head I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It filled me with an unspeakable joy.  Then I saw something I wasn’t expecting.  It was a woman.  A beautiful woman smiling at me with a radiant glow.  She was so beautiful.  Her brown hair and brown eyes glowed.  Her face was youthful and filled with love and joy and I recognized her in an instant.  It was at the same time unexpected, completely real to me, and somehow no surprise.  It was my Aunt Jean.  Then she sort of nodded in a way that said to me, “Look who I brought.” She wasn’t alone.  Standing there with her were my Grandma Esther and my Grandpa Nick.  And with them were my other grandparents Eugene and Lucile.  The five of them stood there for a moment, looking at me with pride and joy.

When I was a boy, I remember going to the Communion rail with my Mom and Dad at Our Redeemer’s UMC.  We would kneel at the railing and take the bread and the cup and linger a little to pray.  I would always wait there, even if I was done praying, because I knew that if I waiting long enough, my Father’s hand would reach out and grip my shoulder.  Then his arm would wrap around me, and I would feel the power of his love and the love of my heavenly Father wrapping me up.  As I knelt at the railing at my ordination, I could feel the loving arms of my father and mother, my sister and brother, my wife and daughter and all of those that had lead me to that moment.

Then I saw my Uncle Larry and Aunt Janie and more and more saints – until I was completely surrounded.  I could hear them clearly saying, “We love you, Robby.”  There was a golden glow that surrounded them and fully embraced me.  I could feel again my father’s arms wrapping me up in unconditional love.  It was the single most powerful moment of my life because, you might have guessed, none of these people dwelled on earth any more.  I was surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – the resurrected saints of God who were claiming me.

This was not a dream.  This was a holy vision and it was as real to me as holding my daughter at her birth.  It was an Easter moment.

Today we celebrate Easter and I am reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer sin and death.  I am reminded of the words that I have read at so many funeral services, “Where O death, is thy sting, where, o death, is your victory?”  I am reminded of the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote, “Lives again our glorious King. Alelulia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alelulia! Once he died our souls to save, Alelulia! Where’s thy victory boasting grave? Alelulia!”

I feel the sins of which I have been convicted.  I feel the sins of which I have been forgiven.  I feel the sin that remains in this world – the sins of war, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, greed, corruption and the rape of the earth.  I know that the world threw everything it had at Jesus, and that on this day Jesus rose.  And just as Jesus defeated death, so too will God conquer all of these sins. On this day Jesus won the victory.  On this day life won. Grace won. Love won.

All of those that have died are alive again.  All of the battles I fight as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, as a son, and as a man – I fight surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I will surely fail.  I will fall and I will be beaten by temptation.  But I will rise; just as Aunt Jean rose.  Just as Eugene, Lucile, Esther and Nick rose.  Just as Jesus rose.

And so I invite you to rise as well.  Claim Jesus as your own.  Claim the victory that Jesus has won.  Be a part of the fight to redeem the world.  Rise and live in the Kingdom of God.  Rise because Christ is Risen.

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Unpopular: Humility

“Humility is the virtue that distinguished Christianity from worldly wisdom.”  This quote is taken from one of my favorite devotional books, Praying with John Wesley.  It is attributed to Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican bishop that influenced John Wesley. David deSilva, the author of Praying with John Wesley writes, “Desire for advancing one’s status and defending one’s honor in worldly terms is not compatible with the desire to follow Jesus.”

“Advancing one’s status” – that one got to me as I read it again last week.  It was only a week ago that I knelt in front of the Bishop and received a stole, a Bible, and a certificate announcing that I now held a new status in the United Methodist Church.  I have advanced my status, and have the certificate to prove it (it will probably be in a frame and on a wall in my office in about six months or so).

The night after my ordination tornadoes ripped through central Illinois.  They passed about 30 miles north of my home.  They destroyed many homes in Dwight and Streator.  On Wednesday I went to meet a few people from the conference to help out with the cleanup in Streator.  The three of us that met there had all gone through the conference’s disaster response training.

After going through a daylong seminar about disaster response, we were all given special green t-shirts as well as photo badges that announced our status as trained and registered early responders.  The three of us showed up at the Streator Fire Department with wheel barrows, shovels, gloves and special shirts and official badges.  We were promptly put in a van (without all of our equipment we were so proud of), and dropped off at a public park.  We were told, “Pick stuff up and bring it over here.”

We stood there for a second, not sure of what to do.  First of all, the damage left me a little dumbstruck.  We were at a baseball complex.  Two of the backstops were crumpled like aluminum foil.  Several of the light posts were snapped in half.  Brick dugouts were piles of rubble.  A cement shed was toppled.  Another field was relatively untouched.  Shingles, limbs, splintered wood, nails, and glass were scattered everywhere.

The three of us just stood there, not sure what to do.  There were about 50 people at work.  Some were dragging garbage cans full of debris.  Some were working on a pile of bricks.  It was hot and humid, I didn’t know where to begin, so I just wandered around for awhile, picking up random things and holding them in my hands.  I started to get annoyed.

Didn’t anyone notice my green shirt?  Didn’t you see my badge?  I am a trained disaster responder.  I am here to help – to do real work – not to pick up litter at a baseball field.  I’m an ordained Elder, for crying out loud, shouldn’t I have an important job to do.  I am, like Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal.

Eventually I found an empty can.  I found a field that no one was working on, and I started to pick things up.  I picked up shingles – so many shingles.  I picked up nails and splinters of wood and broken limbs. I looked at the baseball field and realized how important this work really was.

It was a beautiful baseball complex – surely a point of pride for the community.  I realized that if I could clean up this field, it could be a place kids could come and play, and hopefully forget about the destruction.  Maybe in some small way I could help families get back to their normal life.  Maybe I could pick up enough nails and glass and make the field safe for a kid to have fun again.

In the heat of the day, knelt down to pick up a pile of debris.  I thought about those shingles.  They had come off of someone’s roof.  I was literally picking up pieces of someone’s home.  Then I saw something that really didn’t belong.  It was pink.  It was a tiny little toy pony.  In the midst of the debris, there was a little girl’s toy.  I know a little girl that loves her toy ponies. I cried.  I knelt in that field and cried as I held that toy.  I realized that I was sitting in almost the exact posture I had sat just a few days before while being ordained.

In that field I knelt down to pick up the pieces of someone’s home.  I had sweat on my brow and a young girl’s toy in my hands.  A few days earlier I knelt down to be ordained by Bishop Palmer.  I had a stole around my neck and a Bible in my hands.  Somehow it felt pretty much the same.

That’s when I knew what humility was all about.  Following Christ is not about stoles or certificates.  Being a pastor is not about compliments after a great sermon, and it is not even about building bigger churches. Being a disciple of Christ is not about “advancing one’s status.” I learned – or maybe was reminded of – an important lesson: the best way I know to follow Christ, is by getting down on my knees to serve.

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No relief for the Reverend

So, now I’m ordained.  Someone asked me on Sunday if I feel any different.  My immediate thought was, “No,” but I paused before I answered and thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I sort of do feel different.”  He smiled.  I think he appreciated that I took the time to answer him honestly, and he said, “Good.  You deserve to.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting to feel like after ordination.  Some have asked if I feel relieved.  You would think I would feel relief.  After all, the process has taken almost eight years to complete.  I’ve been interviewed and approved by three different groups.  I’ve submitted myself to psychological analysis, turned in hundreds of pages of theological writing, went through CPE, and graduated seminary.  Along the way I have served at three churches, had various mentors, been criticized by anonymous letter, chastised by the mysterious “some people,” and made enough mistakes to  put even Jesus’s limit of forgiveness (70 times 7) to test.

So you would think that I would stand here relieved.  I’m not.

There is no relief.  There is way too much work to do.  If anything, I feel the weight of responsibility now more than ever.  I have been charged by my Bishop before God, my Church, and my family, to do something.  The world is a broken place, and there is so much work to be done.

I went to Peoria on Wednesday.  I was accepted into membership by my brother and sister clergy on Wednesday afternoon.  I was introduced to the conference on Thursday morning.  I was ordained on Friday evening.  I came back to Chenoa  on Saturday and the world had not yet changed.

The oil was still pouring into the ocean.  Wars over greed and power were still being fought.  The divide between the rich and the poor was still growing.  Children were still dying of curable diseases.  Wayward souls were still wandering without knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ.  Young people were still being influenced by the TV telling them they could only find happiness if they looked this way, and bought this product.

The building downtown was still crumbling.  The food pantry across the street was still in need.  The basement of our church was still a wasted space waiting to be turned into something wonderful.  The meetings still had to be scheduled.  The sermon on Sunday still had to be preached.  The dishes still needed to be washed. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to work for the Kingdom of God.  When I turned on the TV this morning I saw plain as day that it had not yet arrived.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I took vows on Friday night to move onward toward Christian perfection.  It didn’t take long for me this morning to realize I hadn’t made it yet. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

Instead, I feel empowered.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to go into the world and do something.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to equip the saints for ministry.  I feel ordained by the Holy Spirit to teach and preach, to break bread with sinners, to heal the sick, to proclaim release to the captives, and to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So no, I don’t feel relieved.

I am empowered by God to do something.  And you are too.  Let’s get something done.  And then, and only then, may we find relief.

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

17 years ago I told you I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I was 15 years old.  It was the night your Dad died, and I was being tormented with a whirlwind of emotions.  In the midst of my emotions, I picked up a notebook and decided to write.  I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I knew that something deep inside of me was telling me to write.  I realized in that moment that I was a writer.  I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  When I told you that, I was expecting you to say, “Really, what do you want to be?”  Instead you said simply, “You are going to be a minister.”  I thought you were crazy.

Yet something within me never let go of that idea.  On the night that Grandpa died, something was born in me.  It was a spark that was probably there all along.  It was a spark that only you recognized.  It was a spark I figured would just fizzle out.  I was wrong.  Tonight I am going to be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.

I am going to kneel before you, the church, the Bishop and God and take vows to dedicate my life to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Tonight I will promise to teach the Bible to those seeking a deeper understanding.  I will promise to preach good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, and forgiveness to sinners.  I will promise to sit with a dying man as he takes his final breaths.  I will promise to hold an infant above the baptismal waters.  I will promise to break bread with sinners and share the cup of forgiveness.  I am going to dedicate my life to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I will take a solemn vow and enter into a covenant relationship with the Church, the body of Christ – the only source of truth and salvation I have ever known.  The Church is not perfect.  It’s a good thing, because neither am I.  I love the United Methodist Church. I know it has made mistakes, yet I love it anyway.  I love it for so many reasons, but ultimately I love it because it was through the United Methodist Church that I discovered the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

And that is why I want to thank you.  I want to thank you and Dad for bringing me to church as a kid.  I want to thank you both for teaching me about the love of Jesus in word and deed.  I want to thank you for valuing my education, and encouraging me to reach and dream and dance.  I want to thank you for loving me, even when I forgot my homework, even when I forgot to pick up the apples in the yard, or when I forgot to give you a message.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see through all of my mistakes and imperfections.  I want to thank you for loving me so much that you could see something about who I am, and who I could be.

When I kneel before the Bishop tonight, there will be so many people there with me.  There will be people of five wonderful churches that embraced me, welcomed me, and molded me into a man, husband, father, and pastor.  There will be teachers and coaches that pushed me.  There will be friends that laughed with me.  There will be all four of my grandparents, two aunts and an uncle.  When I think of all that has led me to this point in time, I am humbled.  I know that you will be there too.

I thank God every day.  I thank God for giving me more blessings than I can possibly deserve.  I thank God for family and friends.  I thank God for life, life abundant, and life eternal.  I thank God for the awesome privilege of doing God’s work and serving God’s children.  And I thank God for you, and for that preposterous suggestion you made to me so long ago.  It turns out you were right.  Thank you.

Love,

Robb

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Fixing the Skandal

A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Will Deuel had a series of posts on his blog, “A Man Called Preach.”  His series of posts about the Skand-lous mission of the Board of Ordained Minstry created quite a whirlwind, including dozens of responses from well-wishers, sympathizers, and fellow probationary Elders rumbling along the ordination track.

As I think about our current Board of Ordained Ministry in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, I concur with much of what Will had to say, especially in suggesting that it needs to be re-thought.  So I kept on thinking…

What if the Board of Ordained Ministry was perceived not so much as a board of gatekeepers, but as a team of mentors?

I can imagine a new kind of process, one that does not exist to weed out those that are deemed unworthy, but one that lifts up, empowers, and molds responsible Christian leaders.  I can imagine a team of mentors, prayerfully discerning the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, shaping a process that meets them where they are.

Instead of treating us as “classes” that have set list of hurdles that must be leapt in order to reach the goal, the ordination process could be a time of spiritual guidance, discernment and empowerment.   Picture this:

A probationary elder, upon being comissioned, sits with a small group of pastors and lay people to examine the material that was presented.  They talk about the Bible study, the sermon, the written work, and Wesley’s historical questions.  They consider the work experience of the candidate, the education, and seminary evaluations.  Together, they create working goals related to different parts of ministry.  If a candidate has a gift of teaching and preaching, she is given resources to develop those gifts.  She is supported in going to preaching conferences (like the annual Festival of Homiletics, which I am dying to go, but have no means), and continuing education seminars.  She is not required to do redundant work that was taught in seminary and examined during the comissioning process.

The candidate struggles with administrative duties, so she is given a mentor – one not based solely on age and gender, but one that is suited to teach her the skills she needs.  During the first round of annual conference forms, she meets with her mentor a couple of times.  They meet again shortly after the annual report forms are filled out.  Throughout the year, the mentor and candidate meet several times to talk about administrative tasks.

The group decides that Clinical Pastoral Education is required of the candidate, but not necessarily for all.  She has some gifts of pastoral care, but could certainly refine her skills.  She is given financial support to enroll in a CPE program.  Her mentor and DS make sure that during the CPE internship, certified lay speakers relieve her from the pulpit two or three times so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by the duties of congregational leadership and her CPE internship.

There are Residence in Ministry Retreats.  They are intentionally about building the connection and meeting learning goals.  The residents meet the bishop, members of the cabinet, and some local pastors and lay leaders from around the conference.  At the retreats, practical ministry techniques and issures are mixed with things like spiritual gifts inventories and personality tests.  The candidates discuss their path toward ordination, about their struggles and their fears.  They are given time for their own prayer, study and reflection.

Each candidate is treated as an individual –  a whole person.  Ordination is a process of discernment and growth – not a series of hoops. 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it?  The question I have is, what’s keeping this from being a reality?

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