How would you rebuild ordination?

A reader raised a good question in the comment thread about ordination.

That being said, the blog I read called for the UMC to not just make tweaks, but to completely overhaul the ordination system. So, at the risk of highjacking John’s blog since I don’t have one of my own, I have to ask what a new system of ordination would look like. If we stripped everything away and started from scratch, what would our priorities be?

Another way of asking the question is, what do we have to do to provide a pastor with basic formation? What priorities do we want that pastor to have and how will we equip that pastor to live those priorities out in the life of the church?

What do you think?

Is the ordination process too arbitrary?

United Theological Seminary dean David Watson recounts his ordination experience and asks a question that many clergy and candidates would give a quick answer to.

Is the UM Ordination Process too Arbitrary?

Since my ordination I have served on the District Committee for the Miami Valley District of the West Ohio Conference, as well as the West Ohio Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I’ve reflected a great deal on the ordination process and the proper work of committees and boards who have oversight of the process. I have much more to say about this matter, but there is one item that I want to highlight in this post: the biggest problem with our ordination process is that it is not undergirded by a clear theology of ordination.

Dispatches from the ordination front

I’ve been hearing lots of stories this week from clergy candidates caught in the teeth of our system of supervision and ordination. A few unorganized thoughts rise as I stew on these things.

First, a disclaimer: I know hundreds and thousands of clergy out there are doing their best to be Spirit-led stewards of the church and the gifts and graces of the candidates in the process. I am not a member of the “tear it all down” school of thought. The machine is working, or, at least, I am not in a position to judge whether it is not.

Consider these more thoughts from someone who has seen a few places where the belts are slipping the gears and hoses are shaking loose.

I see some behavior that appears to be intended to produce learned helplessness. When candidates are delayed or rejected and given cryptic reasons why — or reasons that are on their face absurd — it leaves them in a position of having no idea how to avoid failure in the future. It makes their experience of the process like one trying to appease a capricious and angry god.

I hear stories of people who are allowed to continue far into the process and then rejected or delayed for things that could have been brought up years before.

I listen as people talk about the only thing that matters is getting to the other side of the ordination process. Then they can do or say what they want. This seems disordered on many levels.

I know the General Conference has considered changes to the ordination systems for a few quadrennia now. I know these stories are not representative of universal experience. But they strike me as more than outliers.

I don’t have the knowledge, experience, or wisdom to offer solutions. I merely offer a report from the field.

The absurdity & necessity fidelity

My post last night about the meaning of a vow provoked a fair amount of reaction fairly quickly. I assume it his a nerve for some folks.

As I often do, I pose questions and open topics on this blog to help me think through them. So, everything I wrote in that post and write in this one is the state of my heart and mind at the moment. I welcome further conversation as it helps me see my own mistakes and misconceptions.

To me, there are two parts to questions about the meaning of ordination vows. The first is fairly simple: Is a vow binding on us for life?

The answer, to me at least, is yes. It is simple, but that does make it easy or even rational. By taking vows we are doing something we actually cannot do. We are binding our future self to the words spoken by our present self. The absurdity of doing such a thing is exactly why Wendell Berry argues that no person is ever actually prepared to get married. We can’t actually enter into such vows with, to use the medical term, informed consent. We do not know what the future will bring, and yet we vow to live in accord with words spoken at a specific time and place.

The more complicated questions have to do with what it means to actually live in fidelity to our vows — especially when the one two whom we make our vow is imperfect or even sinful. Even Jesus, depending on which gospel we read, described terms under which wedding vows were null and void.

Living in fidelity to vows is not simple at all. It is deeply fraught and often confusing. Sometimes our vows come into conflict with each other. In the end, though, I am constrained to believe that the vows I made before God and to my wife bind me in the same ways the vows I read in the Book of Worship will one day bind me. I might fail to fulfill them because I am a frail creature, but I cannot disavow them without rejecting the one to whom they were made.

These are my thoughts and convictions. Some of the comments on my previous post are really worth your attention if this conversation touches a nerve for you.