The first thing I learned walking into a job at a Baptist church in West Jefferson, North Carolina was that the frontier of freedom in the Church is found in Baptist life. I was raised United Methodist and pursued ordination under a bishop up until that point. The steps toward ordination were clear: step one, step two, and step three. While this is a valuable system in our sister denomination, Baptists are uniquely free and autonomous in the local church to determine the course and role of ordination. After being ordained this past April, I wanted to offer some thoughts I have not being raised in this tradition that might help frame ordination in a way that is helpful and fruitful for the work of the church.
- While the ordination occurs in the local church, many churches in the Baptist tradition ordain men and women to Gospel/Christian ministry. You can already tell that there is a working of the Spirit in the local church, and surrounding Baptist churches (for the most part) affirm that work. That is why my local church felt it important to utilize CBFNC by inviting Dr. Jack Causey to participate in the ordination council. It is important to utilize the resources at hand and be good stewards of those resources. The affirmation shared by the larger denomination is useful because there are varied insights to be shared and sought out.
- Ordination needs to be clearly spelled out by the church as to what that entails. What is expected of the newly ordained pastor? What might their responsibilities be in the local church before they seek a church to serve of their own? What does it mean for the pastor to preside at the table and at baptism? While we hold fast to the priesthood of all believers, many churches rely on their pastors for these ‘pastoral offices’ as they are known in some traditions. So it might be helpful to clarify expectations and realities. (This is good in any new context of ministry)
- Finally, incorporate the rich traditions of which your church is a part. Utilize liturgy and practice. Even incorporate other traditions that have influenced you. At my ordination service, two United Methodist ministers, a Presbyterian minister, two Episcopal priests, and two Baptist ministers laid hands on me and said the ordaining prayer. This holy moment was a reminder that we may walk this road in freedom as Baptists, but we are hardly alone in our world and in our mission.
This past month, I was invited to participate in a ordination service for an Episcopal priest who has become a close friend. We gathered around him as a choir sang that ancient Latin text, “Veni, Sancte Spiritus.” (translated, ‘Come Holy Spirit’). Though this was not my denominational identity, I found it incredibly holy and moving as we set apart my friend for ministry. I think we Baptists can learn to understand better ordination and practice it more fully. Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit.