“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.”
“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.”
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?
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.
“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.
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.