Monday, October 29, 2007

Ordination Day

As I walked into Lake Edge United Church of Christ on the east side of Madison on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 28, I could sense the energy in the place. Kelly Jetzer and Donna Kuelz were setting up to sing. Choir members were arriving. Ellen and our friends Donna Chaney and Linda Micke were getting an artistic installation in place in front of the communion table.

All of this was to get ready for my ordination service at 3 in the afternoon.

Even though I have been working at various local congregations as an authorized lay pastor in the United Church of Christ for several years, this would be the moment when ordination would define my role as a minister serving people on behalf of the whole church. For me, this day was a long time coming, considering that in my teen years, I was studying to be a priest. Now some 40 years later, the moment of ordination was at hand.

What was the thing that you liked best? Ellen asked me after the ceremony was over.

Well, certainly when all the other ordained clergy came forward to lay hands on me, that was mighty powerful. Julia counted 34 clergy -- UCC, of course, but also Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic -- a wonderful expression of the range of traditions within Christianity. There I was in the center, listening to Donna and Kelly sing "Send Forth Your Spirit, O God," as hands pressed down upon my shoulders and my back. My eyes were closed and I just drank it the moment. In the UCC tradition, it is the community that does the ordaining. Here, the community had given its assent, it had joined together in prayer, and now those who had been set apart before me as ordained ministers were embracing me in that calling we all share.

Another vivid impression was the range of folks who had gathered for his moment. There were people from all four churches where I have worked as a pastor, a contingent from the newsroom at The Capital Times where I have worked for the past 34 years, Jewish and Muslim colleagues from the community forum that I am part of this year at the Center for Abrahamic Studies at UW. Friends introduced themselves to the congregation as "pagans from Reedsburg" and as part of the Free Thought Society and as members of the Unitarian Society. One of the leaders of the area Evangelical Lutheran Church in America brought greetings. Family members came from as far away as Detroit and Indianpolis and Minneapolis, from Missouri and from Kansas. Friends, neighbors, black, white, gay, straight, male, female, young, old, the physically fit and those who labor with physical limitations. During the communion service, I said, "We gather at this table set with bread and cup, common elements shared in many forms by people all over the world, to remind us that this table is wide and vast beyond our imaging." The gathering here indeed was wide and vast.

The glow lingers. It is a real rush to have a couple hundred friends gather together on your behalf. I am deeply grateful for their presence, their prayers and they promise of on-going support for my ministry. And I am hopeful that as a minister, as a pastor and teacher, I can help people come and see and experience the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is a slide show from the ordination you can see by clicking here.