“We Are Not Here To Make a Minister”

by Joy

I don’t think we should ordain people at all,” Tony declared. The other passengers on the bus shifted and braced, as they did when he made his contrarian pronouncements. He continued, “It can be a power play, a way of separating and manipulating people. I created an app called ‘Ordain Thyself’ to try to make that point. You know anyone can be ordained, right?”

Meg laughed. “Our churches have all had extensive processes for ordaining men.”

He gave his wry sarcastic smile. “Oh, I know. But you don’t have to do it that way. Seriously. Anyone can be ordained, by law. It’s easy.”

“I should have you ordain me.” She was flip, light, laughing. It was a joke, right? Women can’t be ordained.

“I would ordain you.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely. I see it in you.” He wasn’t joking. The others chimed in affirmation.

She was still laughing, but now it was to hide how big this moment was for her. “Okay.”

His nod was like a judge ruling on a case. “Consider it done. Friday night, we will have an ordination service.”

***

Joy's ordination

On Friday evening, the breeze blew warm and sticky, despite the hour and the dark. The wait staff had pushed several tables into one long banquet table for the group and pulled screens across the restaurant to provide a little privacy. Tony and a couple other men had ventured out into the city on the hunt for bread and wine. He placed it on the table next to his laptop, where he’d prepared a service.

Meg was a tangle of anticipation, fear, and happiness. The group’s willingness to do this was an affirmation greater any she’d experienced before. She had no doubts, but she had fears.

How would it go, telling others about this? Would her husband be disappointed that he wasn’t there? Angry? What would people at their new church say – they did not ordain women or permit them to preach. What did this mean for the future?

After dinner was cleared away, Tony stood to speak.

“As with many things, I think that in its purest form, ordination is a recognition of something that God has already done. Meg, what we do tonight is affirm that the Holy Spirit is already working through you, that you have been specially gifted for ministry.

“I’m going to read the words of one Reverend Luther Lee, preached on September 15, 1853 in South Butler, New York. He preached this at the ordination of Miss Antoinette Brown, the first woman ever ordained in modern times.

“I do not believe that any special or specific form of ordination is necessary to constitute a gospel minister. We are not here to make a minister. It is not to confer on this our sister a right to preach the gospel. If she has not that right already, we have no power to communicate it to her. Nor have we met to qualify her for the work of the ministry. …

“All we are here to do, and all we expect to do, is in due form, and by a solemn and impressive service, to subscribe our testimony to the fact, that, in our belief, our sister in Christ, Antoinette Brown, is one of the ministers of the new covenant, authorized, qualified, and called of God, to preach the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ. This is all; but even this renders the occasion interesting and solemn. As she is recognized as a pastor of this flock it is solemn and interesting to both pastor and flock to have the relation formally recognized.”

Tony turned to the ordination vows for deacons in the Church of England. He explained that he would read each and Meg was to respond, “By the help of God, I will.”  Then at the end, he would ask the group to affirm a few statements as well.

She felt the weight of this settle on her shoulders, responding quietly to each. Then he read, “Will you accept the discipline of this Church and give due respect to those in authority?

prayer at Joy's ordination

She paused. All her previous experiences with authority figures in churches rushed to her mind. The church is fallible because it’s made up of fallible people, including herself. “I’m not sure about that one.”

He smiled, said “Me either,” and moved on to the next one.

At the conclusion of the vows, Tony asked everyone to reach out to Meg as they prayed over her. Then, he handed her the bread, Carla opened the wine, and he asked “Would you share a passage of Scripture with us tonight, before you serve communion?”

She paused a few moments, thinking. She was unprepared for this moment. But then, she thought of one. “We shared this with our children each night at bedtime, and engraved it on my eldest daughter’s headstone. It’s simple and it’s all I can think of right now.

taking communion

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Then she walked around the table, serving the wine and bread to each, unable to stop smiling.

serving communion

 

I am Meg, and this is a story of actual events which took place the week of August 30, 2012 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In the months since that night, I have not found many answers to my initial fears. I still don’t know where I fit, what I am to do, or how people will respond. This story is so precious to me that I initially held it close to protect it from being spoiled by the criticism and opinions of others.

But I realized that I’ve gone from hiding it to hiding from it… and from you. I’m all too aware of my failures and shortcomings. I want my own way, my own space, my own life, and I get mad when I have to yield to others. I have not lived up to those vows, and I know those verses in the Bible about how those who lead are held to a higher standard. That has terrified me into silence.

But even when I confessed this to the team of writers present that night, they extended grace. Everyone present that night on the other side of the world stands by it and by me. When I spoke with him at the writing of this post, Tony said, “Rarely is something so spontaneous also so clearly right and inspired. Too often, ordination is misused. People hide behind it, and bureaucracies use it to reward some people and punish others. But I will say that yours was the purest, simplest, and most joyful ordination that I’ve ever been involved with. Truly.”

So here I am. Afraid. Weak. But knowing it’s time to come out of hiding. I don’t know what is next, but I am no longer hiding from it.

 

67 Responses to ““We Are Not Here To Make a Minister””

  1. Stephen January 13, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    I so enjoyed reading this, this morning. it is spontaneous and just.
    Thank you

  2. Shawn Smucker January 13, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    That’s a night I won’t forget for a long time, Joy. I’m honored to have been there, and I continue to stand by you.

  3. Beverly Wooden January 13, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    I think this is the most beautiful, inspiring blog I have read in a long time. It is wonderful to know there are others “out there” with beliefs that coincide with mine. I would love to have been involved in such a beautiful ceremony that echoes what I believe the heart and intent of God to be for his daughters.

    • Mich January 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

      Amen to that!

    • Nancy Le January 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      And Amen!

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      I hope that many more women get to experience something like this, whether as those affirming the ordination or as the one being ordained. Maybe this is part of what I’m to do…

  4. Beverley January 13, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

    Will pray for you to hear His still small voice, to feel the Spirit’s nudges.

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:39 am #

      This verse will always and forever make me cry. Thank you for your prayers.

  5. Kelly J Youngblood January 13, 2014 at 6:45 am #

    Beautiful story, Joy! I have so many mixed feelings and thoughts about “ordination”. This one goes on the positive side.

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      I do too, even after this. As Tony said, it feels too often like a tool used to bestow power and create haves and have nots. But if ordination is more like this, a recognition rather than a bestowing, I find less dissonance.

  6. Kristin Potler January 13, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    This whole thing just makes me smile! I love even more that you shared it with us. God is writing a beautiful story in your life & I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  7. Jenna January 13, 2014 at 7:02 am #

    Utterly thrilled about this.

  8. Seth January 13, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    You are a gift, Joy.

  9. Ed January 13, 2014 at 7:14 am #

    I love this story and I can see that it was the right time for the leap to share it. As I struggled with seminary, it was hard enough to discern that path without a bunch of people calling my integrity into question based on my gender.

    I also wonder if the timing of an overseas trip wasn’t an accident. Sometimes removal from our context and assumptions can open us up to the other ways God wants to move. I think a lot of people have seen the way God used women on the mission field and changed their minds on the issue of women in ministry.

    • Megan at SortaCrunchy January 13, 2014 at 8:21 am #

      Well, Ed went ahead and stole my words. I was thinking as I read, too, that of course this took place in Sri Lanka. What beautiful freedom to escape what our church culture has made of ordination so that it might be held up in its purest form.

      My precious, dear friend, I am grateful beyond words that you are trusting this to all of us. May we live in the truth that there is no now condemnation for those of us hiding our lives in Christ Jesus. May we never be so ashamed of our shortcomings that we hide his work in us.

      And may you find yourself in my living room again VERY VERY SOON. I love you so.

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:45 am #

      Yes, I have read and heard and seen over and over the beautiful way God works through women outside the borders of our country and its religious-cultural mores. Really, we see men and women working arm in arm, alongside each other, everywhere. It’s just easier to find it overseas because they aren’t hiding.

  10. Sarah Bessey January 13, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Beautiful, bold, brave and so compelling. I love this and I love you and I’m so glad you’re finally sharing it. it’s time.

  11. Anonymous January 13, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    “…in its purest form, ordination is a recognition of something that God has already done…” and “Too often, ordination is misused. People hide behind it, and bureaucracies use it to reward some people and punish others.”

    Yes. Yes. So much truth here.

    Thank you for sharing. Doing it afraid and without all the answers — this is our walk of faith.

    I am married to a wonderful, Christ-following man who has been in full-time Christian ministry his entire adult life. We have first hand experience with ordination being thrown about as a weapon to select the first class and second class citizens. He is currently on staff at a large church who refuses to license or ordain him on the basis that he married me and I went through a divorce prior to our marriage. Never mind that it was a Biblical divorce – sad and heart-breaking with years of Christian counseling, professional intervention and trying everything, but divorce. Never mind that after marrying a young man I met in the “Experiencing God” Bible study at only 19, I endured ongoing physical abuse, was beaten into unconsciousness and that there was serial adultery. No one has even been willing to ask the questions of why or how or to put the divorce into any sort of moral context. Never mind that I am not the one asking to be ordained. Just the association with one of “those divorced people” is enough for disqualification.

    The irony is that he is still allowed to be a full-time staff member with a “director” title — not pastor — but “director.” He still does the hospital visits. He still provides counseling for distraught church members. He still gets the early morning and late night phone calls. He still puts in too many hours for not enough pay. He is more noble and Christ-like than anyone I know. He adopted our oldest daughter and has loved her and cared for her as his own for a decade now. He lived a life of chastity until we married when he was in his early 30s. He knows he is called by God to serve the body of Christ, but there is no official stamp of approval.

    I am thankful that as we stand in heaven someday, each of us – ordained or not – will be seen clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He’s really the only first class citizen.

    • Nancy Le January 13, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

      I am so sorry he has to go through that. He sounds like a true pastor and man of God.

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      This story of your husband and you breaks my heart because what a gift he is to you and those he serves. I am glad you know that both of you serve the One who sees and is pleased and whose approval is enough. That’s so tough when we so desperately want approval here (this is one of my personal demons).

    • Bob January 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

      This is really heartbreaking to read. Is it ever possible for you and your husband to find a church that has a different approach–a Christ-like approach, and one that would appreciate him and you for the people that you are—people who are worth far more than his present church realizes.

    • Karen Pidcock January 21, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      An unfortunate & sad example of the misuse of power…wherever! My life as an Anglican Christian in both U.S. & Canada, however, has learned & become ever more careful in discerning within the community of faith who among us has by the Spirit & her life experience & spirituality the gifts to be either deacon, priest or bishop…having demonstrated the mind, heart & skills to lead in specific ways to build up the Body of Christ. I therefore believe there are life-giving reasons for maintaining order for the means & processes for ordaining in the church those to lead, which must involve more than one or two of us.

  12. Makeda January 13, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    This was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for boldly sharing and choosing to no longer hide.

  13. Amber C Haines January 13, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    “But I realized that I’ve gone from hiding it to hiding from it… and from you. ” This makes me cry, Joy. I love you so much, and I feel you, the calling and the hiding.

    Please let’s not hide anymore. Let’s call each other out when we do.

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      I’m still scared. I’ll need your help to not hide when being scared gets too loud.

  14. Tony Jones January 13, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    You have told the story beautifully, Rev. Joy. It was a truly sacred moment for all of us.

  15. Nish January 13, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    Yes. Hands lifted here proclaiming the truth that God was, is and always will be at work in you, and that this ordination is right, is true, and is beautiful. Thank God for you, Joy Bennett.

  16. Leigh Kramer January 13, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    Friend, I am in tears. I am so proud of you for sharing this story at last, for embracing freedom over fear, for choosing not to hide any longer. This story is bigger than you and me and I am so excited to see what happens next in your life and how God will use this. To see you walk in your calling is a gift to us all. xoxo

  17. Caris Adel January 13, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    This is beautiful and encouraging. I’m so glad you shared it.

  18. Bekka January 13, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    This is so beautiful, and I found it resonating.

    I was absolutely stunned when, a few years ago, I was told about a pastoral calling on my own life. I can well appreciate your struggles.

    Hoping for abundant peace and grace as you work out the next step.

    Much love and blessing to you, dear heart.

  19. Erika Morrison January 13, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I will be coming back to this again and again. So much glory here, Joy. <3

  20. Heather Bowie January 13, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    This is absolutely beautiful. Thank-you for sharing your story.

  21. Diana Trautwein January 13, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Because I know you and several of the people involved in this beautiful service, I am grateful beyond words that it happened for you, to you, in you. And I am grateful you have chosen to entrust this beautiful and deeply personal story to this sacred space. Much love to you.

  22. Emily January 13, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Amen and Amen.

  23. the Blah Blah Blahger January 13, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    SO proud you’re finally telling this story. Beautifully written…it was worth the wait! Love you!

  24. Sara January 13, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    This is truly beautiful and so inspiring.

  25. Tara Owens January 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Glory. What full-heartedness it feels to hear you receive this story as your own, and to speak it out loud. This is holy and bold, true and real. And so very good.

  26. rachel lee January 13, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    this is absolutely incredible. it had me on the floor. this is a moment that I did not witness, but I experienced this, and I will never leave this again.

  27. Marilyn Yocum January 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    To come out of hiding is a wonderful thing. So few do. Thank you for writing this and for letting us hear you.

  28. Renee January 13, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    THANK YOU so much for sharing your story!! I am currently struggling with this very issue and questioning some things I’ve always been taught. This was refreshing & very encouraging. Blessings to you!

  29. Brenda January 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    What a beautiful story. This made me tear up. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Morgan Guyton January 13, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Gave me goose bumps. Thanks for sharing this story.

  31. Donna C January 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    Loved this story Joy! But I’m still wondering – what did your husband make of it? By the way, I suspect if I was involved in a similar story, my hasband’s reaction would probably be to roll his eyes, laugh, and say something like ‘I’ve been wondering when that would happen…’

    • Joy January 14, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

      :) He wasn’t sure what to make of it at first because it is SO different from what we’ve seen before (the long, drawn-out, complicated process many denominations use). But he is very supportive and told me “if anyone bullies you about this, tell me. I’ll get ‘em.” That made my day.

  32. Lanet Hane January 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment with each of us. You have blessed us, and reminded us all of what ordination is meant to be about. You clearly have a gift, and it is powerful and life-giving to hear that gift being affirmed by so many.

    Thank you.

    I needed to hear this, to remember that the church is beautiful, and to know that the church is alive and moving.

  33. Lynn D January 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    Joy, I’m one who usually reads, but doesn’t comment, but a comment is required here. Ordination IS or should be, confirmation of what God has already done. All the things you have faced brought you to this, this moment to acknowledge God’s gifts in your life. It’s okay to doubt your abilities. If you could do it all, you wouldn’t need God’s grace and power in your life. As you begin to step out in new ways, listening and responding to the challenge and the call, I will be praying for you. It’s all about Him. Blessings.

    • Joy January 15, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Thank you so much, Lynn. What an encouragement your comment is to me!

  34. Kamille Scellick of Redeeming the Table January 13, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    I really admire you Joy and I’m proud of you for sharing this story, your story. It’s time!

  35. Jim Fisher January 13, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

    The Spirit is obviously at work within and through you, Rev. Joy. Welcome to the priesthood of ALL believers. Preach it, sister!!

  36. Tanya Marlow January 14, 2014 at 3:40 am #

    YAY!!

    I love this post and this story.
    NO SHAME.

    Xx

  37. Carmen January 14, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    This is one of the most beautiful and wonderful things I have ever read. Oh, the love you must have felt that night. I can’t wait to see where it leads, if you choose to tell us. ;)

  38. Michael Engle January 14, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    Was your husband disappointed that he wasn’t there? Angry?

    • Joy January 15, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Neither, but you’re welcome to ask him.

      • Justin Shumaker January 16, 2014 at 10:27 am #

        LIKE

  39. Shauna January 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    This reminds me of what I think Christ intended the church to be. Thank you for sharing your story.

  40. Pat January 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Beautiful. Thanks for sharing Joy!

  41. Kreine January 15, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    This is the most beautiful description of an ordination I’ve ever read. Thank you for sharing it!

  42. gregg January 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Professional Jesus people have successfully drained the child-like love out of whatever you want to call the monster the modern church has morphed into. We all are called to love who is in front of us…I officially ordain any who need such titles for now and eternity. Go forth and serve, pray and be selfless.

  43. Kelly @ Love Well January 16, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    Eshet chayil, Joy Bennett, minister of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. I have secretly believed for a long time what Tony expressed here: ordination is nothing but an acknowledgement of those around you that, yes, God is active in you in this way and, yes, we agree with the Holy Spirit that you are marked and chosen and sent forth. So go in peace and joy and with strong legs and an open heart.

    May it always be so.

  44. Ishah Shaw January 19, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Moving, beautiful and deeply encouraging. So glad I came across this article and blog!

  45. Bob January 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    This is such an uplifting, inspiring story. It is great that you shared it and just know that many people are enriched by reading it. Whenever you feel scared as you say, just know that Jesus is with you all the way.

  46. Karen Pidcock January 21, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    Furthermore…I believe every Christian is already a minister of Christ, through our baptismal calls & promises.

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