You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. – John 15:16
To me, one of the more powerful moments in corporate Christian life is the ordination service for elders and deacons and “the laying on of hands.” The experience is always profound, moving and emotional. In the wider body of the Presbyterian Church, new ministers are ordained in similar fashion by an action of the Presbytery.
Sunday afternoon, Rebekah was part of such a commision, so we drove to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Durham for the service. The Holy Spirit was very much in evidence as a young minister knelt in front of the communion table, surrounded by a host of preachers, elders, and deacons, laying hands on her head and passing the same charge of responsibility that Christ gave to Peter and the other Apostles, an unbroken sacred chain that has continued – through leaders, and bishops, and popes, and parsons, and vicars, and priests, and reverends, and clergy of all varieties – down to this day, and this place, and this conduit of blessing.
Rebekah’s task was to pray, so she invited those who already knew the weight of ordination to press in around the ordinand and to place their hands on her head, her shoulders, her back, laying hands on one-another too, one dynamic, mysterious, power-charged conduit of divine appointment just about humming with spiritual life and heavy with the gravitas of the love and the calling.
She prayed, in her inimitable fashion, calling truth into the equation and not holding back. In consequence and more than once the crowd of ministers and elders punctuated the prayer with laughter as well as tears. Because truth prayed with eloquence and love can touch every emotion.
“I have never before heard laughter during an ordination prayer,” more than one person said. “Best ordination prayer ever!” another man laughed, but not lightheartedly.
It made me think about how important it is that all of our emotions come into play when we are involved with something so specifically and significantly of God.
If you look into the photograph, deep into the huddle, the stack, the scrum, the pile of preachers and elders, you can just see Rebekah’s face. In front of her and kneeling, buckling under the torrent of love, a brand new minister is being ordained.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will endure…” – John 15:16
Here’s the prayer (below). A few lines may make you chuckle too. But more than that, I hope that you feel the authenticity of the love, and catch a little of what it means to pass on blessings and hope and faith and promise and a double portion – maybe more – of God’s rich and powerful Spirit.
In love, and because of love – DEREK
Ordination Prayer for Sarah Wolf
Rebekah Maul, July 8, 2018 – Westminster Presbyterian Church in Durham
Lord of Heaven and earth, Lord of our lives and of our very souls… your daughter, and your servant, Sarah, kneels before you in submission, and in anticipation of your power resting on her, and in her heart and mind. The weight of these many hands rest upon her. It can be a heavy burden to carry… so instill in her a sense of gratitude for this awareness, and when she feels this burden the most acutely, bring to her mind the power of your strength, so that she might smile and recall your Word, that you work your power through our weaknesses. Help her to claim them, knowing in faith that this is exactly where you will work it for the good, because she loves you, and she longs to serve you according to Your purposes. May you always be her guide.
Ministry and calling are such mysterious things, Lord…. Exhilarating and also boring at times; Gratifying, and also mystifying; Logical and reasonable, decent and in order…. and unbelievably confusing. So we pray today that when your sheep show their backsides, she will recognize them as sheep in need of your compassionate love, and she will humble herself to administer that love. When a wayward or misguided follower throws obstacles in front of her leadership in order to make her stumble, may she remember that you will hold her up; When she sees her anger and frustration building, may she respond not in self-righteous indignation, but with grace that deflates the fearful, misdirected, and again… that your love will shine through her healing words and touch. May she see your Holy Spirit descend upon a difficult Session or Diaconate discussion where ears are open and new direction is given.
- May she remember her calling every time she pours the cleansing and soothing waters of baptism over the head of a baby, or of a not so little child who seeks refuge in your family;
- May she remember her calling every time she takes your body in her hands and breaks it… as she practices your radical hospitality shown to her, as she pours out the sweet and life-giving symbol of your blood… to all who will come to your Table, so that together she and they will be united in the body and blood of Jesus.
And Lord, as the weight of these hands bear down, lift her up with Your kind of peace… that far surpasses all of our human understanding… and give her faith and a deep and abiding trust in You. This is our prayer… in Jesus’ name. Amen.