By Scott Dickison
Norma is one of my favorite church members.
I’m sure pastors are not supposed to have favorite parishioners just like parents aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but hear my confession.
I could go on and on about why Norma is one of my favorites — that she takes flowers from the sanctuary arrangement to our home and hospital-bound members with regularity, voluntarily picks out weeds that run wild in the juniper bushes at the front of the church, rides motorcycles, always has a smile on her face — see I’m doing it already, but all I really have to do is tell you the story of when Norma was ordained as a deacon last year.
A couple of years ago our church started doing things a little differently for deacon ordination. Our practice had been to have the service in the evening, which meant that very few folks were in attendance. The result was that deacon ministry in its entirety —who they are, what they do, why it’s important — and the powerful witness of the ordination service remained a mystery for most of the congregation.
So in an effort to raise the profile of this important ministry of the church (years ago our church made the decision to reaffirm the New Testament role of deacons as “servant leaders,” charged with leading the church with acts of hospitality and service as opposed to personnel and finance), we decided to move the service of ordination to Sunday morning as part of our regular worship hour.
After some debate, we’ve even kept the practice of inviting the entire congregation gathered to perform the traditional “laying on of hands.” Yes, it takes a while, but I haven’t spoken to a soul who doesn’t think the extra 15 minutes is worth it; it’s that powerful. No, you probably won’t find it on any top-10 lists for “How to Be a Visitor Friendly Church,” but then again, for my money there’s probably not another thing we do at the church that embodies what it means to be the body of Christ than ordination.
Ordinations are people blessing people, plain and simple. And more than anything else we’re called to do as the church, we’re called to bless. We’re called to name that which is holy in each other and in the world — to call it out and lift it up. And if we’re doing it right, the blessing overflows in such a way that it’s hard to tell who’s blessing whom, and here’s where Norma comes in.
Now, if you’ve ever been to one of these services, you know that typically the person being ordained will be on a kneeler or sitting on a chair with her head down, and the person coming to offer the blessing will put her hands on the person’s shoulders for an extended moment, perhaps saying a short prayer or word of encouragement.
Not so with Norma. Norma was not content to let folks come by and bless her. She wanted a part in this blessing, too.
One by one we made our way down to the front of the church to lay hands on Norma only to have her jump halfway out of her seat to lay hands on us, greeting each of us with a holy hug and a “thank you” for “coming all the way down to see her.” We still talk about it. She tells me her son got on her when he came down, whispering in her ear to sit down and let everyone else bless her for once.
I’d never seen anything like it, but perhaps more than any ordination I’ve been to, Norma’s embodied what church is all about: people blessing people and getting blessed in return, sometimes unexpectedly.
Sadly, churches are often known for other things. For many they’re known for judgment and exclusion more than mercy and embrace. For that we have no one to blame but ourselves. So maybe, now more than ever, we should make a point to lift up all the ways we play a part in what God has been up to since first hovering over the new creation and saying, “This is good.” We should bless, and tell about it.
And the thing with blessing is that once you start, it’s hard to stop. Blessing has a mind of it’s own. You don’t know what it’s going to do or where it will take you. It may send you halfway around the globe or halfway out of your seat. In fact, if you’re doing it right, it will be difficult to tell who’s blessing whom. Norma taught me that.